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A Bizarre 'Brown Bunny'

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2004; Page WE43

THE MOVIE was howled out of Cannes last year. Filmmaker Vincent Gallo and his leading lady, Chloe Sevigny, were practically led to the film critics' equivalent of a scaffold. It wasn't pretty. People hated, just hated "The Brown Bunny." Of course, everyone managed to fit the movie into their schedule, since the movie also had a graphic sex act in its final section.

Not surprisingly, the film immediately acquired a sort of cult cachet. It became the Rocky Horror Bunny Show. Since then, Gallo, best known for his self-made indie "Buffalo '66," has shaved off a good half-hour from the movie. There was a heck of a lot of driving in the original. And a large number of self-absorbed shots of Gallo in this virtually one-character movie. Now there's just a lot of driving, and the plot gets to its points quicker. It's hard to say if "The Brown Bunny" is any better. But it does roll by faster. The result: a strangely watchable oddity, whose deeper mysteries are known only to Gallo, who wrote, directed, edited, produced and even co-filmed the indie film.

Vincent Gallo rides into the horizon in the odd indie he wrote, directed, produced and edited. (Wellspring Media)

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He's Bud Clay, a gloomy American loner whose gaunt facial angles, ice-blue eyes, eternally tousled hair and somber expression speak of a deep haunting. A motorcycle rider, he has just participated, and not fared well, in an East Coast race. The disconsolate Bud loads his Honda RS250 into his van. And drives. Cue the road movies of the '60s, as well as a soundtrack that is moody and folksy, including a Gordon Lightfoot song. And while we listen to the songs, we watch our driver's messy hair in the blurry foreground.

Drive, drive, drive.

Bud is returning, cross country, to Los Angeles, where he's from. And on that ride, he has a handful of encounters with strangers. In the first, he visits an elderly couple who are the parents of Daisy, a woman Bud claims is his girlfriend. Daisy's mother says she doesn't remember Bud. And her husband seems too lost in himself, or in senility, to even worry with. There's a bunny in a cage. Daisy's bunny, we're told. Um . . . a symbol? In the second, Bud chats up and charms a gas station attendant (Anna Vareschi), who says she has always wanted to go to L.A. Using his penetrating stare, Bud pleads and pleads with her to come with him. She says yes, simply because it's in Gallo's script to do so, not because of any ostensible character reason. But as she goes into her house to say goodbye to her life and pick up her stuff, he drives off. Huh?

Bud then arrives at a rest stop, where a middle-aged, seemingly depressed woman (turns out to be Cheryl Tiegs) is sitting at a picnic table. Again, because it's Gallo's movie, the woman offers no resistance when he sits by her, holds her close and kisses her. She is a lost soul, we are supposed to understand. And then, à la Travis Bickle, he meets a hooker (Elizabeth Blake) to whom he feeds lunch and with whom he does nothing more. There's a riding excursion, too, on the salt flats at Bonneville. Bud gets out, rolls out the bike and drives madly around. Just killing time, one must guess. He gets back in the van and, once again, starts driving.

Suddenly, a disturbing thought surfaces. Is Bud supposed to have some sort of mystique that borders on, gulp, the messianic? No, please, no. The thought is extinguished. We aren't far, now, from the controversial grand finale in a Los Angeles hotel where Bud reencounters his lost love, Daisy (Sevigny). There is meant to be a mystical quality to this meeting, as the two characters discuss significant events of the recent past that presumably prompted Bud's cross-country journey in the first place. But the only mystery is how an extremely gifted actress mistook sophomoric degradation for emotional truth, honest acting or whatever fanciful phrase diverted her professional mind at the time. Luckily, Sevigny has a promising future before her, and this bizarre little diversion will soon scamper into the wild grass, never to be seen again.

THE BROWN BUNNY (Unrated, 92 minutes) -- Contains a graphic sexual act and obscenity. At Visions Cinema.

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