There are two ways one can conquer a road-trip across the vast landscape of Canada: you can cram everyone and everything into an old, cramped vehicle with a shaky engine and tires that are just as worn out as the seat cushions; or you can travel in relative comfort in a brand-new RV. Sadly, Jason Priestley’s feature film debut Cas & Dylan is similar to that moment on any road trip when the big, luxurious RV passes the tiny little excuse for a car, gaining a jealous glare from its passengers. Cas & Dylan is that small automobile, left way behind eating the dust of other infamous Canadian road-trip films using the majestic Canadian landscape as an additional character which adds to the arduous journey of its protagonist(s).
Although its roots travel back to its motherland Canada, the film is ultimately a boring road trip. Cas and Dylan chooses to always travel smoothly on asphalt, without ever getting its tires dirty by veering off road for a real adventure. Despite the miles traveled by the characters in the film, the audience stays parked in the driveway.
First time feature film director Jason Priestley, famous for his role as teen heart-throb Brandon Walsh in the 90s drama Beverly Hills, 90210, seems to abandon the use of any genuine additions to the narrative thanks to a lackluster and very familiar TV-style script from writer Jessie Gabe. Struggling to find a connection between his two main characters Cas and Dylan, played by the up-and-coming Tatiana Manslany and the seasoned Richard Dreyfuss, the film is constantly on a bumpy ride with forced meet-cutes, predictable stereotypes and cheesy one-liners.
After learning of his inoperable brain tumor and the sudden death of a very close companion, Dr. Cas Pepper (Dreyfuss) decides that his career as a doctor has reached its end and wishes to continue the rest of his life living amongst the beautiful landscapes of British Columbia, Canada. While picking up the last of his belongings from home, Cas decides to make a quick stop at the hospital, picking up some essential medicine for his travels, only to be hassled by a familiar face in one of his operating rooms, a young woman by the name of Dylan Morgan (Manslany). Desperate for a ride to her boyfriends house, Dylan pesters Cas until he gives in to her request for a lift. What should have been a simple stop, turns into a hit-and-run incident that finds Dylan and Cas fleeing for their lives on the gorgeous Canadian open road.
The open road narrative is, in my opinion, one of the most sacred and profound pieces of soul-searching artwork anyone can produce. From masterpieces like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, to Walter Salles’ 2004 gem The Motorcycle Diaries, deeply complex revelations of identity and the open road seem to share a stark similarity: it is not others that teach you about yourself, it is life! Cas & Dylan is a film that not only makes every obvious reveals of its characters front-and-center and without any ambiguity or thought, but its as if each new, profound character trait learned by our protagonists (mainly Dylan), indiscreetly yelled at the top of your lungs, and at the pit of one’s diaphragm. At times, the film’s obviousness is insulting to the genre. It quickly becomes clear that subtlety is not Priestley’s forte.
Lacking any confident finesse on screen, Priestley relies heavily on his actors to make the words on paper work, without much luck. Despite enlisting the help of veteran actor Dreyfuss and blooming television actress Manslany, it is still plainly obvious that this is a television movie, made by television talent. Dreyfuss hints at scarce charming, but mostly blunt and ineffectively weathered acting techniques, while Manslany outshines her co-star for the entire film, even if you have to dig through amplifications and over-acting to find her ability.
Missing focus and substituting its greatest asset (which is the indescribable Canadian open road) for clichéd stereotypes of iconic Canadian-ness (long-winding highways, mountains and sunsets, ferries, etc.), the film becomes more of an idealistic portrait of a moving postcard than it does a motion picture. Often times, as its male protagonist describes as “being too easy”, Cas & Dylan could simply be described as a film that took all the shortcuts possible to reach its destination, without making any emotional stops for its viewers. Sentiment is thrown out the window as easily as a candy wrapper and Priestley can be happy knowing that he has directed one of the most obvious made for television films of his career, despite it debuting on the big screen. Every journey is an adventure, and Cas & Dylan is a valiant effort by a proud Canadian talent who needs to learn from this journey so that he can venture off into original and risk-taking territory on others.
Night Film Reviews: 3 Out of 10 Stars.
Is Cas & Dylan on a fatal collision course? Or does the film have enough grip to steer clear of disaster? Is Priestley’s directorial debut a success of utter failure? Leave your comments, likes and thoughts below!