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Review: Looney conspiracy theories overshadow 'Wander'

Courtesy of Saban Films


In “Wander,” Aaron Eckhart plays Arthur Bretnik who is convinced, along with his equally looney podcasting pal played by Tommy Lee Jones, about a deep state plot that’s going to decimate an entire town. It’s got all the fixings to make Alex Jones salivate: crooked government officials, exploding organs, and implanted microchips. The only thing missing is a secret ingredient that’s turning the frogs gay. 

Director April Mullen and writer-producer Tim Doiron manage to get a totally bonkers and vocally straining performance from Eckhart (he’d make his co-star of “The Dark Knight” proud) playing an ex-cop turned private investigator, but it’s the type of Nicholas Cage-y whacked out characterization that looks great in the editing room but can’t save “Wander” from getting stranded in the dessert. Kudos for trying. 

Bretnik thrives on helping locales solve baseless conspiracies, proudly displaying a “Private Investigator” badge to let townsfolk know he’s serious. The dedication stems from a horrific car accident that left his wife paraylized and killed his young son a few years back, with the frantic flashbacks serving as a motivator for his civic duty and an insight into a depressed man’s fractured soul. Where have we seen that before? 

He’s chasing a case that involves a mysterious town in the middle of nowhere called Wander, where anyone caught trying to flee has their chest blown up as if a Xenomorph from “Alien” was escaping. There are odd coincidences Bretnik finds during his investigation, which leads to some fairly shocking, albeit, stale conclusions about the past. The idea of an exploding chest device isn't the silliest notion “Wander” tangles with and, save for a harrowing opening sequence, never gets the suspenseful treatment it deserves. Add in a weird Eckhart voiceover about border control and it becomes obvious the filmmakers are trying to ground their film in contemporary politics. Again, kudos for trying but it happens too late. 

Heather Graham has a blink and you’ll miss it role as the concerned friend who’s worried Bretnik is losing his mind (or perhaps she’s in on the ruse?) By the time you find out the swindle, it ends up being a colossal waste of talent. In fact, underneath the plethora of shaky close-ups, shoddy camerawork, and cheap drone shots, Mullen’s biggest flaw is never trusting the viewer's intellect. “Wander” struggles to connect the narrative dots, and despite Eckhart and Jones hamming it-up for the campy, unapologetic garbage the film is, it’s a conspiracy theory that leads down a rabbit hole to nowhere.  

Grade: D 

WANDER will open in theaters, On Demand and Digital Friday, December 4th. 


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