‘Lake Tahoe’ likable, if somewhat artificial and trite feeling

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:18pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The American indie movement can easily expand to become the North American indie movement, especially when the subject is “Lake Tahoe,” a new one from Mexican filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke.

Like Eimbcke’s previous feature, “Duck Season,” this film is laid-back and summery, its action unfolding in a single day. Eimbcke is obviously a fan of American indie godfather Jim Jarmusch, and his movies unfold in a similar style: scenes as isolated blackouts, mostly shot with a distanced camera, infused with sneaky humor.

The title “Lake Tahoe” will be explained only in the final sequence. The movie is set in a seaside town in the Yucatan, where a teenager named Juan (Diego Catano) has just had a minor car accident. The car won’t start again, so he walks to the nearest repair shop he can find.

There begins an odyssey to find a particular auto part, which may or may not help the car actually run. Juan meets a collection of odd people along the way, including the cute single mother (Daniela Valentine) who works behind the counter at an auto shop, and the kung-fu-crazed mechanic (Juan Carlos Lara) who helps the cause.

At least we assume he’s a mechanic; it also seems possible he could just be a guy who was hanging around the garage and didn’t have anything else to do that day. You’re never quite sure with this movie what people’s motivations might be.

That includes Juan, who’s in a funk that gets explained about halfway through the action. Instead of building up the usual suspense, Eimbcke is more interested in exploring the horizontal spaces of this flat town, which appears almost completely unpopulated and eerily quiet.

It’s easy enough to like “Lake Tahoe,” although it felt a tad too packaged for me. The cutesy jokes suggest that Eimbcke’s heart isn’t really in the detached approach but in the more sentimental moments (as opposed to Jarmusch, whose attitude seems perfectly fused with his style).

If he really is a filmmaker in search of his own style, he could do worse than come up with a couple of crowd-pleasers such as “Duck Season” and “Lake Tahoe.” And he’s only 38 years old, so there’s plenty of refining to do.

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