Prince Avalanche: What’s With the Mustache, Paul Rudd?

Prince Avalanche

Opens Fri., Aug. 16 at Varsity. Rated R. 94 minutes.

What makes Prince Avalanche a summer movie? Maybe it’s the aimlessness of its wandering story line, even more than the literal backdrop for the thing: two guys on a summer job sprucing up a lonely road in West Texas. A recent fire has burned the surrounding countryside, which gives the setting a pleasant, haven’t-quite-seen-this-before-in-a-movie quality.

The guys are Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch), and they really don’t get on. Alvin wears a mustache of self-satisfaction, as befits a man with a secure collection of platitudes and a condescending air to match. Lance is the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend (Seattle’s own Lynn Shelton, heard only on the phone), and Alvin tries manfully to impose his standards of behavior on his younger cohort. They putter along the blasted landscape, painting new yellow lines on the road and arguing about what constitutes mature behavior.

It’s to director David Gordon Green’s credit that the eventual revelation that Alvin’s life is not as together as he’d like to think is treated not as gotcha irony but as a natural piece of confused masculine existence. And even that plot point, though important, is folded into the film’s casual approach—in fact “plot” might be too strong a word to describe the odd, slightly stoned rhythm Green gets going here.

The movie’s set in 1988 and adapted from an Icelandic movie called Either Way (seen at SIFF last year). It’s a good fit for Green, whose recent bro-centric films Pineapple Express and Your Highness were very different in tone from early beauties such as All the Real Girls. Along with some bull’s-eye observations about male posturing, Prince Avalanche summons up a handful of quasi-supernatural moments, as though resisting easy pigeonholing. And the actors are well up to the movie’s oddball challenges: Rudd has always been able to suggest the human presence behind his nonpareil comic talents, and Hirsch, who’s beefed up since wasting away in Into the Wild, contributes a portrait of arrested adolescence without distancing himself from the role.

The striking music is by Explosions in the Sky and Green’s usual composer, David Wingo, another gorgeous plus. If only all these admirably unexpected elements didn’t steer quite so inevitably to a sentimental wind-up. It seems that a premise like this can lead only to the fellows going on a drunken toot and finding their way to mutual understanding. Alas. Despite its soft center, though, Prince Avalanche gets a director back on track and succeeds as a quiet summer doodle.

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