The Rover Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy. Directed by David Michôd. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Set in Australia “10 years after the Collapse”—an event that’s never explained, though it’s transformed the country into a typically dusty Mad Max-style wasteland—The Rover plays like a grim, violent, cod-philosophical version of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Early in the film, three desperate men fleeing a botched robbery steal a car belonging to ex-soldier Eric (Guy Pearce), who’s none too happy about the loss. Determined to get his ride back, Eric locates Rey (Robert Pattinson), the simple-minded brother of one of the thieves, and the odd couple set out in what isn’t exactly hot pursuit, given the film’s logy pace.
In terms of story, that’s pretty much it, though a risible climactic plot twist sheds some additional light on Eric’s motivation. Writer-director David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) is mostly interested in exploring the brutal nature of his post-apocalyptic world, as well as the Lennie-and-George relationship between the two leads. While Pearce plays Eric as a generic taciturn, mysterious loner (who occasionally breaks his silence with long-winded existential monologues), Pattinson, who seems determined to prove himself as more than Twilight’s one-dimensional vampire, digs surprisingly deep into Rey’s very limited comprehension.
Unfortunately, the movie surrounding him doesn’t provide a very compelling context. Michôd’s worldview verges on fashionable pessimism, which is another way of saying that his ostensible character studies play like excuses to indulge in matter-of-fact violence. Unexpected shots to the head punctuate The Rover like a teenager snapping her bubblegum, and they soon become monotonous. Eric’s speeches, meanwhile, serve much the same function as Tarantino’s pop-culture digressions, but bludgeon with their pretension rather than dazzle with their playfulness. Apart from Pattinson’s committed performance, which impresses in a vacuum, the movie has nothing to offer except recycled nihilism, plus a final revelation that amounts to a goofy play on words. For Pee-wee Herman, losing his beloved bicycle is the ultimate devastation, so his quest to regain it has meaning, even in a light comedy. Here, the ultimate devastation happened a decade earlier, and all that’s left for these empty husks is a long, murderous path to a useless ritual.