In “Race You to the Bottom,” two zippy twentysomethings junket through wine country, where questions of commitment, fidelity, and overall character cause the initially companionable pair to irk and alienate each other. Unfortunately, they affect the viewer likewise as their plausible but tedious bisexual dramedy unfolds.
Generally gay travel writer Nathan (Cole Williams) and straight career-unsure Maggie (Amber Benson) have been lovers for months, unbeknownst to their respective boyfriends (Jeremy Lelliott, Justin Zachary). Initially, the two, who share a smart-alecky banter, view their trip from Los Angeles to Napa Valley as a romantic getaway. But as deep feelings and frustrations emerge, their friendship and love affair crumble.
Maggie loves Nathan but questions whether his “70/30” homosexuality and across-the-board fear of responsibility can result in a meaningful future. Nathan flirts with and seduces men; his conquests include Maggie’s straight-arrow ex-boyfriend (Justin Hartley) in a visit with the latter and his wife (Danielle Harris). At other points, Nathan self-loathingly makes efforts to appear heterosexual by presenting Maggie as his wife or date. She’s a “prop,” he tells her, in one of many demonstrations of selfishness that divide the couple.
While this is no “Sideways” or “Autumn Tale” as talky encounters amid the vines go, it’s one of those indies you initially root for. The ideas furnished by writer-director Russell Brown, making his feature debut, contain credibility and potential as Brown explores aspects of contemporary relationships.
But for all the bumps and tempests, the film delivers a flat road and a dreary journey while asking us to care about a jerk and a woman who becomes a pill in his company. Brown doesn’t supply enough fizz, profundity or appeal to enable the movie to succeed as a romantic comedy, an exploration of love or a road flick. The effectiveness of a story about a disintegrating relationship hinges on our ability to believe that something precious is at stake; we simply don’t.
Race You to the Bottom **
Starring Amber Benson, Cole Williams, Justin Zachary, Jeremy Lelliott
Written, directed by Russell Brown
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes