An unusual question hovers over The Canyons, a stylishly scandalous tale of sex, lies, manipulation, moviemaking, murder, and other dark-side-of-L.A. pursuits: Can this malevolent thriller soap opera, written by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader, possibly match the baroque sleaze and drama of the infamous Jan. 10, 2013, New York Times Magazine story that chronicled the making of the movie? The answer is: Almost (and that's a compliment). The article was built around the bad-girl times of Lindsay Lohan, and it followed the low-budget movie's shoot as it threatened to turn train wreck. But the final film is a tight, diverting piece of work. Its amusement (and limitation) is that it dares to take Ellis' florid cynicism deadly seriously.
Lohan plays Tara, a lost soul who's made herself the live-in plaything of a sex-addict trust-fund sociopath named Christian. He's played by James Deen, the real-life star of 4,000 adult videos and for once a figure from the porn world reveals true acting talent. Deen makes Christian a rivetingly ice-cold game player. The movie is about how he degrades and controls Tara, recruiting sex partners for her, and also about how she tries to escape him by falling for Ryan (Nolan Funk), a boy toy who's the lead in a bad horror movie Christian is bankrolling. There is much more noirish kink and duplicity on hand. But Schrader tries to find the human side of it all, and he scores with Lohan, who taps a vulnerability beneath her dissolution to remind you why she's still a movie star. (Also available on VOD) B+