Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones in Wander (Photo: Saban Films)
★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY April Mullen
STARS Aaron Eckhart, Tommy Lee Jones
One of the lamest episodes of The X-Files never made, Wander actually brings to mind the name of Mad magazine’s spoof of the cult series. Just call this The Ecch-Files.
It’s appropriate that the two name actors, Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones, both played Harvey Dent/Two-Face in Batman movies (Jones badly in Batman Forever, Eckhart superbly in The Dark Knight), since the conspiratorial nature of Tim Doiron’s script suggests that one or more characters are indeed being two-faced in terms of their actual involvement with the proceedings. Eckhart essays the central role of Arthur Bretnik, a jittery ex-cop who co-hosts a podcast about conspiracy theories with another paranoid citizen, Jimmy Cleats (Jones). Tortured by his last case on the force — one that resulted in the death of his young daughter and the near-vegetative state of his wife — he now works as a private investigator. Why people would hire a p.i. who twitches like Norman Bates remains a mystery, but I digress.
With the encouragement of Jimmy, Arthur agrees to take the case of a woman whose daughter died on the edge of the desolate Southwestern town of Wander. The victim was killed via unusual circumstances, and Arthur’s sleuthing soon reveals that this case might be connected to the one that destroyed his family and his sanity. But as he tries to gather clues, he can’t shake the feeling that he’s being watched at every moment.
Doiron and director April Mullen try to staple some weighty subjects onto their convoluted thriller — border control, the plight of immigrants, mental illness, government overreach, PTSD, illegal surveillance — but these fall to the wayside of a film that whiplashes between obvious and obtuse. Many character details are sketchy to the point of sloppiness — Heather Graham appears as Arthur’s only true friend, and I spent the first part of the movie thinking she was an ex-girlfriend before mistakenly believing she was maybe his sister until it suddenly became clear-ish that she was his attorney … or maybe court-appointed psychiatrist?
Eckhart’s performance certainly doesn’t help. A generally excellent actor, he goes overboard here, a decision that leads to him growling much of his dialogue. It’s a frustrating misstep, since key lines are rendered unintelligible — I had an easier time understanding the dialogue in the 1966 William Shatner horror yarn Incubus than I did Eckhart’s mutterings, and that movie’s in Esperanto.
With its ample supply of flashbacks and a protagonist whose memory is frequently faulty, Wander seeks to be another twisty thriller in the style of Christopher Nolan’s Memento or any of a half-dozen choice noirs. But inertness in both form and content ultimately results in a film that never quite finds its bearings.
(Wander is now available on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Fandango Now, and other streaming platforms.)