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Josh Duhamel stars in "Scenic Route."

INDIEWATCH: Duhamel plays up acting chops in psychological thriller 'Scenic Route'

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Josh Duhamel stars as the better half of an old-friend duo whose car breaks down in the middle of the California desert. Dan Fogler plays Carter, the aloof author friend, who is holding onto the college glory days. Looking at these two characters, even their wardrobe screams they have different priorities. Mitchell (Duhamel) touts a baby blue polo and khakis, and Carter wears a nondescript T-shirt and unkempt curly hair.

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When their truck breaks down, Mitchell, in a casted foot, limps to find cellphone reception, as Carter scampers behind. Panic sets in when they can't find a signal, and they realize they have no food or water.

I didn't realize how much this scenario freaked me out until I watched this film, and "Scenic Route" plays off of that fear that when man is pitted against nature -- nature and primitive instincts win.

Carter reveals he staged the breakdown, so they could have more time to reconnect, but his version of reconnecting is personally attacking Mitchell's switch to domesticity. As temperatures rise, the film devolves into violence and a barbaric face-off at a realistic pace.

I'd only ever seen Duhamel in romantic movies ("Safe Haven") or popcorn blockbusters ("Transformers"). "Scenic Route" unravels like a David Mamet play: heavy dialogue, visceral emotion and no exploding cars or machinery to deter from the actors. Duhamel brings the rage and the intricate despair as their abandonment from civilization stretches across days. Fogler and Duhamel play off of each other so well, it's believable they were besties at some point -- necessary for this mostly two-person film.

Relatively green directors Michael Goetz and Kevin Goetz know how to use and -- most importantly -- avoid overusing music to set the tone. When conditions put each character's sanity into question, directors Goetz ham up siren-like background music so well, it was reminiscent an Alfred Hitchcock film (in only that regard).

Screenwriter Kyle Killen plays up the desert as another character in "Scenic Route": the heat, the isolation acting as the biggest facilitators of madness. You feel the mercury and tension rising, and I was increasingly uncomfortable and engaged. I doubt I'd rewatch this -- which means everyone involved executed their jobs to a tee.

No spoilers, but some would say the ending was a bit predictable. I say that even if I saw the coming, I was still on the edge of my seat and anxious at the prospect.

If you want to see Duhamel exercise his acting chops and rock a mohawk, "Scenic Route" is worth a watch.

Grade: B-

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

"Scenic Route" (2013)

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler

Writer: Kyle Killen

Director: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz

Time: 1:27

Rating: R for language, some violence and a scene of sexuality

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

Lavine is Accent Editor. Call her at (701) 780-1265, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1265 or send email to mlavine@gfherald.com, read her blog at reeltalk.areavoices.com or follow her on Twitter at @AccentEditorGF.

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Melinda Lavine
(701) 780-1265
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