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Even Oscar Isaac can’t save pretentious thriller ‘Mojave’

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After a series of acclaimed pefromances, Oscar Isaac makes a misstep with Mojave.

One and a half stars

Mojave Garrett Hedlund, Oscar Isaac, Walton Goggins. Directed by William Monahan. Rated R. Opens Friday; also available on VOD.

After a series of acclaimed performances that include Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, Show Me a Hero, Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Oscar Isaac finally makes a misstep with the ludicrous thriller Mojave. Sporting gold teeth and punctuating nearly every line with “brother,” Isaac plays Jack, a homicidal drifter who happens upon troubled Hollywood star Tom (Garrett Hedlund) camping in the Mojave Desert. For reasons that are never clear, Jack and Tom immediately become mortal enemies, and when Tom accidentally kills a park ranger in a way that could incriminate Jack, the drifter ditches his dusty getup and ragged haircut and heads to LA to make Tom’s life hell.

Both characters speak in elliptical philosophical pronouncements that recall Cormac McCarthy’s dialogue in the equally inscrutable thriller The Counselor, only without the appealing wordplay. Writer-director William Monahan is known for his screenplays about hard men making hard choices (The Departed, Body of Lies, The Gambler), but as a director he allows the existential meandering to overpower the story. Isaac sounds almost like he’s doing an Adam Sandler impression when he speaks, and Jack’s personality and motivations remain completely opaque. The more lightweight Hedlund has even less to work with, and he can’t convey whether Tom is suicidal or just dense.

Monahan shoots LA with a sense of menace that recalls much better thrillers, and he throws in brief appearances from recognizable actors (Mark Wahlberg, Walton Goggins) who mostly phone in their performances (sometimes literally). But the movie always comes back to the showdown between Jack and Tom, two dangerous men who aren’t nearly as profound as they (and their creator) seem to think they are.

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