Sugar Moun­tain

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Billed as a wilder­ness sur­vival thriller, "Sugar Moun­tain" is in fact more of a pot­boiler in­volv­ing a ro­man­tic tri­an­gle and ill-con­ceived fraud scheme. None of those el­e­ments grow very com­pelling over the course of Aussie di­rec­tor Richard Gray's Alaska-set fea­ture, which is pol­ished without ever achiev­ing much in the realm of sus­pense or emo­tional in­volve­ment. The mod­er­ate marquee value of Ja­son Mo­moa and Cary El­wes (though the for­mer has only a few scenes) should help smooth ac­cess to home mar­kets. But in any for­mat there's un­likely to be great ex­cite­ment over this mid­dling drama, which opened on 10 US screens (as well as in Toronto) on Dec 9.

The West broth­ers have lost their mother to lung can­cer, but in­her­ited her busi­ness cater­ing to sporty vis­i­tors in the tit­u­lar re­sort town. (The film was pri­mar­ily shot in and around Se­ward, a fish­ing port and tourist des­ti­na­tion in south­west­ern Alaska's Ke­nai Penin­sula re­gion.) Un­for­tu­nately, they're go­ing un­der, with the bank im­pound­ing the boat their char­ter trade de­pends on for over­due pay­ments.

It's blus­tery, short-at­ten­tion-spanned Miles' (Drew Roy) bright idea that they solve these fi­nan­cial woes by stag­ing a dis­ap­pear­ance in the nearby frozen moun­tains, then sell the "mirac­u­lous sur­vival" story to the me­dia for big bucks. Nice-guy sib­ling Liam (Shane Cof­fey) is not at all thrilled by this plan, es­pe­cially since it re­quires him to ex­press cov­etous jeal­ousy over Miles' loyal girl­friend/co­con­spir­a­tor Lau­ren (Ha­ley Webb) for whom he has se­cretly pined since child­hood. This play-acted fra­ter­nal con­flict will up the pub­lic­ity stakes when Miles al­legedly "van­ishes" dur­ing a hike, rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of foul play.

Ev­ery­body falls for the ruse at first, in­clud­ing Lau­ren's po­lice-chief fa­ther (El­wes), who or­ches­trates search par­ties to roam the sub-zero wilder­ness. But of course, best-laid-plans soon un­ravel-in part due to the dis­cov­ery that Miles has sig­nif­i­cant gam­bling debts owed to a men­ac­ing lo­cal char­ac­ter (Mo­moa), but also be­cause his ab­sence opens a space which the long-re­pressed at­trac­tion be­tween Liam and Laura rushes to fill (via a some­what lu­di­crously overblown sex scene).

Mean­while, it be­gins to look like Miles' faked mor­tal-peril sce­nario might well have turned into the real thing. Orig­i­nally set in his and the di­rec­tor's na­tive Aus­tralia, Abe Po­gos' screen­play is com­pli­cated enough. But Gray's ex­e­cu­tion ar­rives at a mid­dle-of-the-road tenor that lacks (among other things) the tragic sense of in­ex­orable cruel fate seen in "A Sim­ple Plan" or grotesque black com­edy in "Fargo," to name a cou­ple bet­ter films about or­di­nary peo­ple whose seem­ingly harm­less crim­i­nal-fraud schemes turn very harm­ful in­deed. De­spite a fairly event­ful nar­ra­tive, the pro­ceed­ings feel a bit turgid, as the char­ac­ter dy­nam­ics sel­dom surprise, and not much ten­sion ac­crues, with dis­ap­point­ingly scant screen time given over to Miles' wilder­ness sojourn. (John Gar­rett's widescreen lens­ing of the spec­tac­u­lar lo­cal scenery is hand­some, but de­spite its hook, this is a movie largely driven by in­door ar­gu­ments.)

Even a brief, pan­icked en­counter with a bear is oddly tepid as staged here. By the time "Sugar Moun­tain" springs a be­lated burst of ac­tion - in­clud­ing a car chase and one sub­sidiary fig­ure's not-dead-af­ter-all re­vival the ef­fect feels more des­per­ate than ex­cit­ing, with a soap-op­er­atic plot rev­e­la­tion height­en­ing the strain. It's all meant to be bit­terly ironic in the end, but "Moun­tain" sim­ply doesn't have the depth to pull that off. Though ul­ti­mately frus­trated in cre­at­ing fully di­men­sion­al­ized fig­ures, the ac­tors do de­cent work. Those who tune in for "Aqua­man" star Mo­moa, how­ever, will be irked to re­al­ize his bad guy (while key to the story) only ap­pears in three or four scenes. — Reuters

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