Camino is a charming throwback that’s far more entertaining than its modest production value would suggest.
For all the evil Jeff Bezos has brought into the world, Amazon’s Prime Video service has become a neat little haven for oddball indie curios the likes of which Netflix or Hulu would bury beneath piles of glossier, more appetizing fare. The 2016 underdog Camino, not to be confused with two other, bigger-budget films bearing the same title and more recognizable stars, is a charming throwback that’s far more entertaining than its modest production value would suggest.
A clever little debut for director Justin Herring, Camino feels like an unironic amalgam of two quintessential ‘90s indie trends. It is a film with the hyper-communicative slacker comedy of Kevin Smith’s Clerks and the navel gazing crime fiction of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Somehow it finds a niche between the two classics that sets it apart from two decades worth of unworthy imitators.
The film’s key strength is its brevity and efficiency. Herring wastes little time setting up the premise, introducing its Dante & Randal leads Mark (Matthew James) and Jack (Cody Michael Davids), two college roommates with a habit of stealing coolers in public to get beer–until one of the coolers they steal is harboring stolen kidneys. The life-in-a-day structure is spliced with a Sundance neo-noir vibe as a pair of laconic criminals hunt down everyone in their small town who owns an El Camino.
Despite its cheap look, Camino possesses a fair amount of style. It’s clear that, given more money and resources, Herring could make a film with looks to match the script’s wit. Even though the performances are on the amateur side and it more closely resembles a corporate training video for Blockbuster than it does a movie any studio would actually purchase at a festival, it moves and flows like the product of more experienced and gifted filmmaking than one would expect from a tyro like Herring.
Part of its charm lies in the emotional honesty of its characters. Sure, the larger supporting cast is full of the kind of unlikable s.o.b.s a lot of ‘90s indie flicks were populated with, faux-edgy troglodytes with hateful views who speak in shitty, brutish one-liners. But the two leads are a compelling surprise. Mark is whinier and more pathetic than one would really like in a leading man, but it comes from a relatable place and he shows demonstrable growth.
The real standouts are Davids as the Randal Graves-esque Jack, a backwards cap wearing motor mouth who means well, but constantly gets in his own way, and Reynolds Washam as Old, a wise criminal who feels like Bruce Dern as a Coen Bros character. These individuals lend a flavor of newness that somehow transcends the film’s obvious, heavy influences. Add to that the sturdiness of the plot and its many humorous call backs and the audience is left wondering when these guys are going to be given another shot, one with a larger canvas to play around in. Hopefully this isn’t a one-off and turns out to be a tasteful glimpse of things to come.