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Originally published June 27, 2013 at 3:05 PM | Page modified June 27, 2013 at 3:14 PM

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‘The Rambler’ wanders into meaningless arty horror

A movie review of “The Rambler,” a visually impressive but incoherent piece of arty horror that stars Dermot Mulroney as a drifter who loses all connection to reality.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 1.5 stars

‘The Rambler,’ with Dermot Mulroney, Natasha Lyonne, James Cady, Lindsay Pulsipher. Written and directed by Calvin Reeder. 96 minutes. Rated R for disturbing gory violence, strong language including sexual references and for brief nudity. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

Reeder, a former Seattleite, will attend opening night Friday.

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Few things are more iconic in America than a drifter on an open road.

That fact should give “The Rambler” an instant advantage as a kind of hallucinatory vision of a nameless man with a guitar traveling the country’s lost highways and back trails, passing through soul-dead towns where dreams die.

Unfortunately, writer-director Calvin Reeder doesn’t know what to do with that advantage in a meaningful way. Though “The Rambler” is heavily inspired by David Lynch’s cinematic intersections of American mythology, magic and the feral subconscious (“Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks”), it lacks Lynch’s gift for changing the way an audience looks at the world.

While there’s no question Reeder has a ferocious imagination and enviable visual talent, “The Rambler” adds up to a numbing, pointless parade of fetishes, grotesques and arty horror with no narrative — offbeat or otherwise — justification behind it.

There is a wryness behind early scenes in which the film’s anti-hero, the Rambler (Dermot Mulroney), is seen surviving a prison stint in the Southwest, followed by a return home to an oversexed, angry partner (Natasha Lyonne) and a thankless job in a pawnshop. Inevitably, Mulroney’s character, never without aviator glasses, hitchhikes his way toward his brother’s ranch in Oregon.

The Rambler’s long journey gradually loses all reality and coherence as he becomes involved with a madman (James Cady) whose dream machine explodes the heads of victims; a singing waitress (Lindsay Pulsipher) who may or may not exist or become a gooey monster; or a crazed fiend who vomits extensively onto his face.

Images and ghosts and circumstances keep cycling through the Rambler’s days, but without any useful resonance. There is no why or how behind the story’s feverish acceleration into a free-associating nightmare.

This is one road movie stuck in a ditch.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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