This second feature from Mark Raso is an infuriating example of the predictability that afflicts the film making industry today. Inspired by the New York Times article For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas by A.G. Salzberger, the premise is one full of potential as a meaningful examination of dysfunctional father-son relationships and an ode to the enduring power of the photographic image as the foremost method by which we have chronicled human history. Neither of these is explored in any meaningful way and ultimately Kodachrome becomes tiresome in its typicalness, with Raso making no effort to challenge any of the narrative contrivances that make so many movies so insipidly asinine in their desperation to deliver some kind of cathartic emotional climax; aka a happy ending.
Raso seems determined to have us believe that the biggest scumbags in the world deserve our sympathy as their life reaches its end, even if they have made no effort to curb their detestable behaviours, which in the case of Ben Ryder (Ed Harris) are innumerable and unrelenting, right to the very end. Ben is a revered photo-journalist who has been estranged from his son Matt (Jason Sudeikis) for more than 10 years and, from the moment that Ben’s nurse Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) walks into Matt’s office with a request from his terminally ill father to join them on a road trip, there are no surprises with regard to anything that happens from this point. Of course, Matt’s initial reaction is to refuse point blank but, needless to say, it takes maybe five minutes of screen time (and some intervention from Dennis Haysbert as Ben’s manager Larry) for Matt to change his mind and set forth on the road to Kansas so that Ben can develop four rolls of Kodachrome film before the last remaining processing lab closes forever.
Everything we discover about Ben points to the fact that he is an unconscionable arsehole, having abandoned his family when Matt was very young. He is arrogant, rude and goes out of his way to antagonise and upset those who have been silly enough to show him any amount of hospitality or compassion, including his brother Dean (Bruce Greenwood) and sister-in-law Sarah (Wendy Crewson). There is nothing we learn about Ben that justifies his behaviour and he continues to harangue both Zoe and Matt until the very end. It makes no sense that anybody, especially Matt, would come to feel any sympathy for this man and there is certainly nothing offered up that is likely to engender any sympathy from the audience for somebody who believes that his talent gives him free reign to spend his day hurling insults at those facilitating his final wish. There is certainly nothing wrong with a character being an utterly appalling individual because they can often be the most interesting and complex, but Ben is neither of these. Why then is there so often an insistence in delivering some kind of redemption or forgiveness for such characters that is neither deserved nor necessary? Needless to say, Matt softens during the course of their journey and we get the sappy ending that we didn’t want but knew was coming.
Equally problematic is the fact that Raso, working from a script by Jonathan Tropper, has fallen into the trap of declaring that an association between a man and a woman can only exist as a romantic/sexual relationship. One of the great strengths of the recently released, and somewhat superior, road movie American Folk is that it debunks this very notion and refuses to succumb to such a tiresome trope. It has to be said that Sudeikis, Harris and Olson do a good job with the material at their disposal and there are some really nice moments along the way, but ultimately it is Raso’s unwillingness to deviate from the cookie-cutter formula that makes Kodachrome an underwhelming and unfulfilling journey.