AMERIKANA (director/writer: James Merendino; screenwriter: Michael Goorjian; cinematographer: Isabell Spengler; editor: Esther P. Russell; music: Robyn Hitchcock; cast: James Duval (Chris), Michael Goorjian (Peter), Tara Agace (Laura), Morgan Vukovic (Danish girl); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Katrina Fernandez/Sonya Chang/Sisse Graum Olsen/Gerhard Schmidt; Olive Films; 2001-USA/Germany/Denmark in English)

“Road movie much like Easy Rider.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a Dogme made film, following the rules for such films as set forth by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. Amerikana is a road movie much like Easy Rider except more quirky, funny and grungy. Director James Merendino (“SLC Punk!”/”Trespassing”/”Magicians”) has his innocents learn the hard way about America and they learn such things as the price paid for learning about themselves and getting freedom is costly. It’s co-written by Salt Lake City native Merendino and the film’s co-star Michael Goorjian.

Casual pals, the folk singing and mandolin playing drifter Chris (James Duval) and the arrogant PhD student Peter (Michael Goorjian), two opposites in their late 20’s, with Chris being dimwitted, patriotic, always positive and good-natured while Peter is scholarly, self-absorbed, cynical and negative. When Peter’s Danish girlfriend dumps him because he doesn’t pay enough attention to her, he has heart pangs over her and to escape LA accepts Chris’s invite to fly with him to South Dakota to pick-up a Harley-Davidson his deceased relative left him. It turns out to be a Vespa, an Italian moped, and Peter in a hurry to return to LA decides to go with Chris only as far as to Salt Lake City and there catch a cheap flight home so he can be back in time to present his thesis.

Traveling across rural America by moped, the Indian looking Chris’s romantic notions of America are put to the test in facing hostility while the glum Peter doesn’t change his views that the country is a wasteland and the people are soulless. By the time they get to Salt Lake City, Chris will be robbed by a couple of troubadours posing as friends and the perfect girl Peter picks up in a bar turns out to be far from perfect and honest about who she is when he tries seeing her again after he cancels his flight home because of her promises. Like in Easy Rider when the Dennis Hopper character becomes the victim of a hate attack because of his appearance as a hippie, Chris on the last leg of the journey also is confronted by a crazed bigot. As the boys’ routine trip across the rural western parts of the country ends on a tragic note, it also delivers a life message about knowing yourself and knowing how to protect yourself in such a cruel world. When the dust clears and we’re back in civilized LA, we’re led to believe that Peter has learned some valuable life lessons about himself.