"The Canyons" has all the makings of a cinematic shocker. A low-budget project made outside the studio system, it stars a frequently topless Lindsay Lohan and young porn veteran James Deen as a Hollywood couple steeped in drugs and casual sex. Directed by Paul Schrader ("American Gigolo") and written by Brett Easton Ellis ("American Psycho"), the movie was made for a scant $250,000 and shot, like a San Fernando Valley skin flick, in the homes of friends. Its goal is a raw portrait of Internet-addled, fame-obsessed youth heading toward ruin.
Anything interesting about this movie, however, took place behind the camera. Despite its impressive pedigree and unorthodox methods, "The Canyons" is hopelessly thin, clumsy and dull. Lohan's nudity -- the film's main selling point -- seems intended to prove that the actress has a newfound maturity and that the filmmakers are committed to pushing envelopes. It's just one of the film's many cynical, juvenile and misguided ideas.
Lohan plays Tara, the compliant girlfriend of sex-crazed movie producer Christian (Deen, sharp and funny, and understandably comfortable in his skin). When Tara's former flame, Ryan (a wooden Nolan Funk), lands a part in Christian's new project, things get noirish. One inspiration is the 1947 classic "Out of the Past," but here the intrigue comes via texting and social media. Tenille Houston plays an ill-used booty call; Gus Van Sant plays Christian's unhelpful shrink.
Schrader's functional, plant-the-camera direction isn't very interesting, but Ellis' barely-there script is what sinks this movie. His gorgeous, coke-snorting characters seem date-stamped 1985, as do their sexual mores. Ellis has long associated homosexuality with debauchery and decadence, and here he uses a couples orgy to illustrate the ultimate transgression. Such glam-rock sex was all very alluring in the Bowie era. It's less shocking now that folks of any orientation can marry, raise children and -- let's face it -- be as boring as everyone else.
"The Canyons" shows Lohan looking older and puffier than a 27-year-old starlet should, and there's something dispiritingly unerotic about her lolling, lackadaisical nakedness. Perhaps that's the point, given the dissipated, post-fun world of "The Canyons." The film is punctuated, significantly, by images of deserted movie theaters.
PLOT An oversexed movie producer, his compliant girlfriend and a fledgling actor form a corrupted love triangle. (Unrated; sex, violence, partial nudity, language, brief drug use)
CAST Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk
BOTTOM LINE Thoroughly dull and unerotic, despite a frequently topless Lohan and her porn-industry co-star. It's saturated with cynicism, not sex.