In the years since the Twilight franchise made them megastars, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have worked with a remarkable number of world-class directors: Olivier Assayas, Kelly Reichardt, Woody Allen, Ang Lee, David Cronenberg, Werner Herzog, James Gray. The werewolf leg of that love triangle, however, does not appear to be in similarly prestigious demand. Taylor Lautner has headlined a couple of forgettable thrillers (major points if you could recall even the titles Abduction and Tracers), and been part of the ensemble in a couple of Adam Sandler comedies, but nothing on his post-Twilight résumé is even halfway decent, much less impressive. The exceedingly earnest indie drama Run The Tide seems to be Lautner’s stab at respectability, but he’s chosen poorly—this is bargain-basement schmaltz, too blandly folksy even for Sundance. Sheer toothiness can’t elevate drab material.
Thanks to The Force Awakens, the name Rey is hot right now, so Lautner plays Reymund “Rey” Hightower, a character who sounds like he should have a personal valet but actually lives in a run-down trailer park. Rey has spent the last six years raising his much younger brother, Oliver (Nicos Christou), who’s now about 10; their mother, Lola (UnREAL’s Constance Zimmer), has spent that time in prison on drug charges. When Rey, who’s still angry with Lola due to her physically abusive behavior while high, learns that she’s about to be released, he embarks with Oliver on a road trip to San Francisco, where he hopes to rekindle his relationship with ex-girlfriend Michelle (Johanna Braddy). To keep Oliver from squawking, he lies to the kid, pretending they’re just on a fun vacation. Meanwhile, Lola figures out where Rey is headed, using clues from a heavily annotated map of the United States he keeps on the wall, and goes in pursuit, accompanied by the boys’ tediously well-meaning stepfather (Kenny Johnson, from The Shield).
Road-trip movies only work if the occupants of the car are good company, and neither Rey nor Oliver qualifies. Christou, starring in his first feature, has only two modes of expression: so vulnerable that he’s on the verge of crying, and so angry that he’s on the verge of a cerebral hemorrhage. Lautner makes a genuine effort, but just lacks imagination—he acts precisely what’s written on the page, finding no internal contradictions or compelling grace notes in a two-dimensional character. Run The Tide is about Rey learning how to forgive his mother and let go of his brother, and screenwriter Rajiv Shah lays this theme out in the most banal way possible; his idea of nuance is to toss out multiple metaphors, from the titular fishing reference to a dopey, endlessly repeated equivalence between personal integrity and a batter protecting the plate. And nobody gets any help at all from director Soham Mehta, whose work here (in his first feature) epitomizes “purely functional.” This isn’t a terrible film, by any means. It’s a completely forgettable film, which is arguably worse—especially for Lautner, who at this point is on the verge of vanishing down the memory hole with it.