1995’s Beyond Desire tells the story of Ray Patterson (William Forsythe). He’s spent the last 14 years in jail, convicted of a murder that he says he didn’t commit. He likes to sing. He’s obsessed with Elvis. He claims that he doesn’t know how to drive because he’s been in prison for the last 14 years but he appears to be in his mid-40s so you have to kind of wonder if maybe Ray just wants other people to drive him around. After all, Elvis never drove himself.
Perhaps because everyone is sick of listening to him as he sings Amazing Grace in his cell, Ray is released from prison. Since he was serving his time in Nevada, this means that Ray now has to walk down a desert road and hope that someone gives him a ride. Fortunately, for Ray, a woman named Rita (Kari Wuhrer) pulls up in fancy red car and asks him where he’s going. Rita explains that she’s always had a fantasy about picking up someone who has just been released from prison. Ray accepts her offer of a ride and soon, they’re at a desert motel, engaging in saxophone-scored, Vaseline-on-the-lens softcore sex. Ray may have forgotten how to drive but apparently, he didn’t forget everything during those 14 years he spent in prison. If nothing else, this film reveals more of William Forsythe than most viewers probably ever thought they’d see.
Soon, Ray and Rita are head to Vegas. Of course, it turns out that Rita wasn’t quite honest about why she picked up Ray. Rita is a high-priced escort and she works for a local crime boss named Frank (Leo Rossi). Frank wants Ray to reveal the location of some stolen money. Ray, meanwhile, feels that Frank is the key to clearing his name and catching the real murderer. At first, it seems like everyone is just manipulating everyone else but Rita and Frank do eventually end up falling in love. Can their love survive bullets and hints of betrayal?
Like many 90s crime films, Beyond Desire is one of those films that was obviously made to capitalize on the success of Quentin Tarantino. The characters of Ray and Rita are such obvious copies of True Romance‘s Clarence and Alabama that the film comes close to turning into a self-parody. Ray is a big Elvis fan and occasionally quotes lyrics at inopportune times. The soundtrack itself is full of Elvis songs, though the budget apparently wasn’t big enough to actually get the rights to any of Elvis’s recordings. Instead, we get cover versions, the majority of which feel rather wan. The film emphasizes the garish glitz of the Vegas Strip but none of the quirky beauty of it. Las Vegas, an adult playground sitting in the desert, is pure Americana. That was something that was captured by Francis Ford Coppola in The Godfather, Martin Scorsese in Casino and David Lynch in Twin Peaks: The Return. The film uses Vegas as a convenient backdrop but it has nothing to say about the location itself.
Like the majority of road movies, the film tends to meander a bit. Ultimately, the road leads to nowhere. That, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. The same could be said of Tony Scott’s True Romance or any number of films directed by Wim Wenders. Unfortunately, this film wasn’t directed by Tony Scott or Wim Wenders. Instead, it was directed by the guy who did Halloween 5 and the end result is a film that, even when taken as a purely stylistic exercise, still feels rather empty. It’s a shame because William Forsythe shows off a lot of quirky, bad boy charm in the role of Ray and Kari Wuhrer make Rita into a far more complex and conflicted character than one might expect. But, unfortunately, the film itself just doesn’t live up to their performances.
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