For a long time Alex Cox’s road-trip, revenge, comedy, Searchers 2.0 was only available overseas, or as a bootleg, that is, until now. The film has finally been released on Region 1 DVD.
Searchers 2.0 is the story of never-was actors Mel Torres (Del Zamora) and Fred Fletcher (Ed Pansullo). Since they have nothing else in the world, they cling to their days spent playing bit parts in studio westerns, ignoring and shunning all real world attachments and commitments. They can name every master-of-arms from Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, but Mel is so laid-back that he doesn’t realize he’s a dead-beat dad, and Fred is full of rants and tirades on various conflicting topics and ideologies.
As child actors Mel and Fred were whipped and terrorized by notorious screenwriter Fritz Frobisher (Sy Richardson). In a quest for retribution, the pair set off to Monument Valley, where Frobisher is scheduled to appear at a screening of one of his films. Neither unemployed actor has a car, so they con Delilah (Jaclyn Jonet), Mel’s estranged daughter, into driving them into the desert. What follows is hallucinatory journey that is primarily concerned with making points about consumer culture, war, revenge, and justice, while taking on the icons of Hollywood westerns.
Cox populates his minimalist “microfeature” with a cast of regulars. Zamora and Pansullo have appeared in numerous Cox films. Sy Richardson is amazing. His grizzled, cowboy-hat-wearing Frobisher is the highlight of the film. Searchers 2.0 is reminiscent of Trent Harris’s 1991 wing-nut classic, Rubin and Ed. In both films an odd-couple, thrown together by chance, set off on a crazy, cross-desert trek. Cox’s bathroom mirror with the wording “Fuck A John Wayne” sprawled across it calls to mind Harris’ spray paint “Andy Warhol Sucks A Big One” graffiti.
Produced by low-budget legend, Roger Corman, Searchers 2.0 was shot in less than two weeks for $180,000. This can be a boon, but it can also prove to be a hindrance. Filmed on digital video, at times it looks wonderful, notably when capturing the sweeping mesas of the American Southwest. Other times, especially within interiors of buildings and the car, the picture is grainy and muddy, and the camera movements are jerky and halting. The editing can be dodgy, especially at the end of scenes, which often cut away too quickly.
Richardson nails his part as the iconoclastic Frobisher, and Jonet gives a nice performance as a daughter desperately trying to connect with her distant father, but there are quite a few flubbed lines and stumbles that can be jarring to watch. On the other hand, there are some wonderful spontaneous moments that come out of shooting a film in this loose fashion. Mel and Fred arguing about who is a better tool of cinematic western vengeance, Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood, is chief among these.
Much of Searchers 2.0 is uneven, and fantastic moments clash with cringe-inducing elements. The road-trip is largely spent on bickering and rants that occur without much context. However, when the Mel and Fred finally reach Monument Valley, and there is an immediate purpose at hand, the film turns into something magnificent. Up until then Searchers 2.0 is interesting as an artifact of guerilla filmmaking, but not that entertaining to watch. However, the end is truly awe-inspiring, culminating in a spaghetti western trivia showdown, and is up there with Repo Man for weirdo endings. Both the film and the characters finally realize themselves, in the same place at the same time.
The DVD comes with a disappointing behind the scenes feature. There’s too much extra footage of empty, silent landscapes, and not enough actual content, like interviews with the people involved. On the other hand, the commentary track with Cox and others is great. Listening to Cox’s soothing British accent is (to American-English ears) entertaining, and he manages to always be interesting, whether he is talking about life on the set, an actor’s performance, or the political implications in the film.