I heartily agree with what every other reviewer says about Eli Hollander's "Deadly Drifter." What a horribly confusing, absurdist film! Then I noticed the picture also goes by the title "Out," and that someone named Ronald Sukenick wrote the screenplay based on a novel by, not surprisingly, Ronald Sukenick. Hmmm. Well, the obtuseness of the film inspired me to launch an Internet excursion in the hope that I would discover the idea behind this bizarre motion picture. I first searched for everything I could find on the film itself, under "Deadly Drifter" and then "Out." All I found were several angry movie reviews blasting Hollander's effort. Then I stumbled over a throwaway line somewhere that said "Deadly Drifter" is a satire of American radicalism. Aha! Unless you've seen the film, you can't imagine how much that one line helps to clear up a few of the mysteries surrounding this odd little movie. When I did a search for Ronald Sukenick, I understood even more. He's an avant-garde fiction writer, which means he writes nonsense and passes it off as serious literature. Whatever. If you think "Deadly Drifter" the film is weird, you haven't seen anything until you read the first few pages of "Out."
"Deadly Drifter" stars Peter Coyote as Rex, a man caught up in a giant conspiracy. When we first meet up with Rex, he's toting dynamite and climbing around on a rooftop with fellow revolutionary Nixie (O-Lan Shepard). The two speak through thoughts, imploring each other not to fall and other nonsense as they look through a window just in time to see a woman with a knife cutting out a man's tongue. Confused yet? Don't worry; you will be within seconds. The movie then switches focus to a meeting of Rex's and Nixie's revolutionary cell. Carl (Jim Haynie), Jojo (Danny Glover), Arnold (Michael Grodenchik), and Trixie (Gail Dartez) sit around a table worrying about infiltration by agents, muse about "The Commissioner," and talk about how important it is to contact the Old Man on the West Coast. They spell out secret messages using letters taken from bowls of alphabet soup, and then eat the message afterwards so the agents won't know what they're up to. Yes, I know how it sounds, but I didn't write the book or the screenplay. Anyway, most of the dialogue in these scenes falls in the category of paranoid delusional with characters questioning other characters about their "real" identities and accusing each other of being agents. Then they all leave Greenwich Village to head out on various missions that will take them to the West Coast.
Did I mention that the movie counts down from ten to zero, with each number representing a stage of the exodus west? We go from Greenwich Village to Newark, New Jersey to Central City, Iowa to Lincoln, Kansas to Colorado Springs, Colorado to "The Mountains" to Yucca Falls, Nevada to Venice, California to a Fourth of July celebration on the beach. Again, I didn't write the book or the screenplay. In each of these locations Rex encounters his former Greenwich Village compatriots, but this time they have different names and often don't recognize him. The scenes start to blur into total nonsense, but a few do stand out. For instance, Rex marries Nixie somewhere in the Midwest, the two spend their honeymoon in a hotel room, and make a big deal about dining on tongue (!). The most memorable segment involves Rex's encounter with an Indian named Empty Fox (Grandfather Semu Haute). The two talk about their boots and cars before ambling out into the deep woods for a peyote session that results in Rex's ability to recite passages from the Book of Jonah in an Indian language. The conclusion to the film finds the group reuniting on the beach in jovial spirits, not because they finally found the Old Man but because they can read minds and are now members of a flaky New Age group called the Institute for Creative Unity.
Wow! You haven't seen confusing until you watch "Deadly Drifter." Once I learned that the movie dealt with left-wing radicals, it made sense on one level. Many 1960s nuts did start out preaching revolutionary claptrap and blowing up stuff only to move into Native American rituals and New Age daffiness as the Summer of Love gave way to the dreary 1970s, and their transitions between belief systems were quick and not easily understandable to sane individuals. In that context "Deadly Drifter" does make some sense. But it's all lost under mountains of impenetrable dialogue and a plodding pace that almost forced me to fling my DVD player out the window. By the way, what's up with the title "Deadly Drifter"? I can only conclude that someone thought the title would convince people they were renting a horror or an action film. "Out" is a far better title, as in "I'm OUT of my mind to watch this movie" or "I'm OUT of luck trying to understand where this thing is going" or "You're watching Deadly Drifter? I'm getting OUT of here." Too, putting Danny Glover's mug on the cover is a bit misleading since his part as one of Rex's rarely seen compatriots is a small one.
Hats off to Ronald Sukenick and director Eli Hollander for making a film that ranks as one of the biggest wastes of celluloid in motion picture history. The DVD version I watched contained only a trivia game as an extra. Yep, a trivia game. Are you kidding me? You expect me take a test after watching this mishmash? I'd have a better chance reading the Chinese translation of "War and Peace" than figuring out answers to questions dealing with "Deadly Drifter." I would probably watch the film again if Hollander did a commentary track for it, though. O.K., I likely wouldn't watch this one again under any circumstances. Stay far away, folks. FAR, far away!