Film Review: Cas & Dylan

This underwhelming road trip flick cannot be saved even by a fine Richard Dreyfuss.
Specialty Releases

In recent years, Richard Dreyfuss, identified with such ’70s blockbusters as Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and his Oscar win for The Goodbye Girl, has become better known for his political and social activism, not least his determination to see civics reintroduced into the school curriculum across the country.

Though he has continued to act, mostly on television and in the theatre, he is not doing the kind of high-profile flicks he starred in at one time. Admittedly, his options may be more limited. Nonetheless, it is still hard to fathom why an actor of Dreyfuss’ stature would find himself in a thin, predictable and wholly contrived indie like Cas & Dylan.

Marking director Jason Priestley’s theatrical film debut and written by Jessie Gabe, it’s yet another road-trip drama—this one centered in Canada—that zeroes in on the evolving relationship between conflicting parties who ultimately find common ground, bond and experience personal growth, despite their differences in age, gender, temperament and socioeconomic background.

Dr. Cas Pepper (Dreyfuss), a 61-year-old, terminally ill oncologist who does not want to suffer the hopelessly prolonged life endured by his own patients, is determined to die with dignity and plans his suicide. Dr. Pepper (a name not unexpectedly mocked) has no significant others short of his beloved dog, and when the animal abruptly drops dead, that becomes the turning point. Suddenly the doctor is in his car heading west from Winnipeg to Vancouver. It’s not clear until the end precisely where he is going in Vancouver or why. Still, the Rockies are spectacular and cinematographer Gerald Packer captures their imposing grandeur. If only this film were a travelogue.

The doctor reluctantly agrees to drive home a 22-year-old aspiring writer, Dylan Morgan (Tatiana Maslany), whom he met a few days earlier observing him and his patients. She explains that as a writer she needs to explore all aspects of life and so she sets up shop in the oncology unit. Nobody in the hospital seems to wonder about it or question her presence (the first bit of implausible nonsense).

The mishaps pile up early, as the doctor accidently hits Dylan’s enraged, gun-toting boyfriend with his car and he and Dylan go on the lam. Though Dr. Pepper initially tries to unload Dylan, she convinces him to take her along to Vancouver, since that’s where her hoped-for publisher works and she is certain that publisher is interested in the novel she submitted. Further, when she discovers the suicide note Dr. Pepper is struggling to write—he prefers to dub it a “legacy note”—she says she can help him out of his writer’s block.

Dylan is a dreamer on many fronts, including the fantastical autobiography she has created for herself—claiming, for example, that her parents are itinerant circus performers. More than anything, she is afraid of being dull and works hard at evoking the free-spirited artist who sees omens in any passing coincidence. By contrast, the curmudgeonly Dr. Pepper is the rational scientist, not given to flights of fancy or expressions of feeling. Guess where this one is going?

The film’s attempt at comedy also misfires—most vividly when Dylan discovers the doctor’s dead dog in the cooler he has brought on his trip. Horrified, she tosses around the stiffened body, shrieking. Later, they lovingly bury it as the doctor and Dylan—who only knew the animal as a corpse—eulogize the late pet.

Maslany, the Golden Globe-nominated star of the popular BBC America series “Orphan Black,” does a nice enough job, given the difficulty of breathing life into the caricature she’s been allotted. As always Dreyfuss is excellent, but even he cannot salvage this underwhelming material.

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