If David Lynch and David Cronenberg teamed up with Werner Herzog early in their careers and made a movie together, it would have been Calvin Reeder’s The Rambler. Wherever you stand with these three auteurs, that’s either a big, big compliment, or it’s quite the opposite. I proudly stand on the former side of the fence, so this review is going to say some flattering things about The Rambler, a mixture of unhinged brilliance, idiocy, unsettling confusion, and a whole lot of chaos.
The Rambler opens with its titular character (Dermot Mulroney) being released from jail. We’re not sure why he was in jail, and it definitely wasn’t to ride ponies, but from the look of his welcome home party — full of miscreants — it’s safe to assume he did something pretty moronic to get in. Well, somebody in Hell still likes him, because he has a run-down mobile home, a good-for-nothing girlfriend (Natasha Lyonne) who loves booze as much as she loves him, and a shit job at the local pawn shop waiting for him. Despite his “good” fortune, The Rambler decides to hit the road to make his way to his brother’s ranch, where’s he’s promised a good job and healthy life. That is, if he can make it to the ranch.
The Rambler is a movie that lives by its own rules, and it works on its own terms. You have to accept the world Reeder has created for The Rambler, or chances are you won’t like it. It’s a narrative and there’s a plot, but a lot built inside this movie is batshit crazy. Along The Rambler’s odyssey to Oregon, he meets a mad scientist who thinks he’s discovered how to capture dreams by way of VHS, a doomed girl simply named The Girl (Lindsay Pulsipher, The Oregonian) who comes and goes in every new place he winds up, and a cab driver who just wants to see the movie Frankenstein remade in color. This is quite a concoction of animated characters.
Picking Mulroney as the lead was an odd, but great choice. Most roles we’ve seen him play are lovable hunks in conventional rom-coms. In The Rambler, he plays a man who’s drifting in and out of consciousness as he gallivants aimlessly to his brother’s ranch in Oregon. The Rambler accepts all the oddities he comes across through his journey like it ain’t no thing. It’s fun watching Mulroney break from his normal routine and star in something, well, colorful. I don’t think this movie would have been as effective without him, since most of the characters he’s known for playing are straight-laced, handsome, and have a good heart. As The Rambler, he’s an ignorant, worthless human being who only exists because he still breathes life. That’s the only quality he has. Everything else he duly notes and disregards.
I haven’t seen Reeder’s first film, The Oregonian, so I can’t compare The Rambler to it, but I can say unconventional storytelling is what he’s here to do. Whether it makes sense or not, he’s wants to take you on a bonkers journey of madness. I can’t tell you what Lynch’s Mulhulland Dr. is about, but I can say that I love it, and not because it’s a Lynch film, but because it challenges the human psyche — it breaks the rules of reality. That’s exactly what The Rambler does. It’s a 90-minute psychotic journey through fucking madness. If you ever wondered what it’s like to live in Hell on Earth, The Rambler will be your Huckleberry.