I get a couple of these movies every year it seems. A relatively unknown filmmaker, directing some quirky/weird story of their own design, a cast full of big-ish names playing oddball characters solving some mystery that isn’t as interesting as it wants to be. This year that movie is Chariot, a needless puzzlebox that tries hard to combine elements of sci-fi, romance, and comedy to disastrous effect. Writer/director Adam Sigal, in his second feature film, fails to provide the atmosphere or narrative cohesion to make any of this meaningful in any way. Quirk can be fun, but quirk for quirk’s sake is a gigantic waste of time, just like this movie.
What upsets me most is that it’s filled with actors that I love. Thomas Mann, who for an actor so young is such a reliable everyman. He’s joined by Rosa Salazar, who has brought shine to The Maze Runner, Alita: Battle Angel, and pretty much everything she’s ever done. And finally, John Malkovich, who despite a red wig that makes him look like Alfred E. Neuman, is always a welcome veteran presence. But Sigal wastes literally all of their talents in a film that is, at best, a curious failure.
A huge problem is that the synopsis, along with the previously released trailer, serve up the story’s twist on a silver platter. You sit waiting, hoping, that Chariot is more than what you’ve already seen but it’s not. After an atmospheric , naturalistic opening in 1840, the story moves to the present where we meet Harrison Hardy (Mann), a young man seeking help from his psychiatrist (Malkovich) because he’s had the same mundane dream thousands of times. Hardy moves into a crappy hotel stocked with kooky tenants. Ex-NFL tight end Vernon Davis plays one who is obsessed with making sure his turtles get to fucking. But the one that really catches Hardy’s eye, for good reason, is Maria (Salazar), a beautiful but peculiar actress who invites him into her home.
With Maria’s help, Hardy begins to navigate where he is and what is happening to him. I’m not going to give the big hook away, you can go on Wikipedia and read it for yourself. Or you can simply wait and read the chapter headings before each major scene, which go the extra mile in giving it all away. It’s like Sigal doesn’t trust his audience to get it so he just tells them. To his credit, he does motivate his cast to fully commit to their bizarre characters. Salazar, in particular, has a certain unpredictability to her performance, which calls on her to be many different things once.
Perhaps because the story itself isn’t at all gripping, Sigal relies on a number of cheap camera tricks to spruce up the visuals, but Chariot‘s gimmicks don’t amount to much. The frustration is that Sigal has some obvious skill, seen in the short prelude scenes that show greater artfulness, and even a sense of dread, than the modern-day stuff. Hopefully, Sigal will take a look back at Chariot and focus on the things he did right so as to carry that over to his next project…if there is one.
Chariot is available now in theaters and digital.