It’s a good rule of thumb that road movies set out in any American desert and made on a low budget have a knack of turning out OK. There’s often something fairly oddball going on too. Made in 1997, the same year that its star would appear in Tarantino’s career-boosting Jackie Brown, American Perfekt sees Robert Forster playing a psychiatrist driving through the empty desert who stops to pick up a female hitchhiker (Amanda Plummer). She is clearly deranged but no matter how mad she apparently seems, he’s even madder – it’s only thanks to a coin toss that he’s giving her a ride, rather than killing her. Half an hour or so down the line, David Thewlis has crashed onto the scene, grinning crookedly and looking at least as demented as the other two. Another half hour and a death-wish sheriff (Paul Sorvino) and the sultry, damaged-goods Fairuza Balk have arrived too. American Perfekt’s trick is to take this bag of boiled sweets and serve them up with a plot slightly borrowed from the Dice Man – just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, there’s another flip of the coin and things bolt in a different direction. By the end blood, needless to say, has been shed, and it’s not always been pretty blood either. The film, on the other hand, has never looked less than great – the bleach-strong desert light really helps – hence the nomination for the Camera d’Or at Cannes for DP William Wages. It’s not a perfect film by any means – things do get a bit overwrought as we hurtle towards the closing credits – but this odd, dark, whacked-out cult item does have flavour to spare. How odd that Paul Chart has barely directed anything since.
© Steve Morrissey 2013