Every critic knows the electric thrill of tearing into a horrible Hollywood-made movie, but there’s no such joy when a small-budget independent movie sucks. So it pains me to declare that “A Name Without a Place,” written and directed by former Salt Lake City resident Kenny Riches, is a woeful mess, an intersection of ill-conceived characters and a nonsensical story.
First, Riches takes a painfully long time introducing his lead character, Gordon Grafton (Bryan Burton), a Miami slacker who basically housesits for his often absent girlfriend, Gretchen Lansing (“Downton Abbey’s” Elizabeth McGovern), a fading movie star who worries her wrinkles are losing her movie roles.
Gretchen returns from a shoot just as Gordon is about to embark on a trip south to the Florida Keys. The purpose of his trip is to dispose of the ashes of someone named Ivan. One of Riches’ first mistakes is not letting his audience know early enough who Ivan is — when there are entire scenes that would make a lot more sense if we had that information.
The other main character is Emma Lee Herring (Charlotte Best), who is obsessed with porno films and wants to perform in them. She also proclaims herself a believer in fate, such as the idiotically complex chain of events that cause Emma and Gordon to meet. That’s not fate, sweetheart — that’s bad writing.
But neither fate nor bad writing is enough to explain the sharp left turn the movie takes after Gordon and Emma meet. Technically, it’s a swerve off the road, and onto the compound of the mysterious Dr. Samuel Sussican, played by Patrick Fugit (“Almost Famous,” “Gone Girl”).
It’s here where Riches basically stops the road-rip romantic comedy he was making, and starts its new life as a “Get Out”-style horror thriller. It’s also when Fugit puts in a performance deserving of a far better movie surrounding it.
But even Fugit’s cleverly whacked-out performance can’t compensate for the grating presence of Burton’s character, the sexist cliches Best must embody, and Riches’ misguided directing and pacing. “A Name Without a Place” — even the title doesn’t make sense — is a painful disaster.
‘A Name Without a Place’
Opens Friday, September 27, at the Tower Theatre (Salt Lake City). Not rated, but probably R for sexual situations, some violence, and language. Running time: 109 minutes.