It’s not so much singular as it is singularly bad.
Anyone able to withstand the visual and aural assault of The Oregonian will find plenty more to like in Calvin Lee Reeder’s follow-up. Reeder, who tends to prefer a bombardment of surreal imagery over narrative, has a unique style that makes it hard to find any contemporaries similar to him. The closest might be Quentin Dupieux, a director whose bizarre stories have enough self-awareness to make their pointlessness enjoyable. Reeder, on the other hand, seems to take himself too seriously, an issue that sums up everything that’s wrong with The Rambler. It’s not so much singular as it is singularly bad.
The title character (Dermot Mulroney), returning home after a long stint at prison, doesn’t take long to get out of town. His long-term girlfriend (Natasha Lyonne) tells him she’s pregnant with someone else’s child, and the boss at his new job spends most of her time berating him. The man’s brother offers him work at a ranch in Oregon, setting off a cross-country journey that makes no sense whatsoever. The cast of characters Mulroney’s rambler encounters include a doctor whose dream recording machine blows up people’s heads, a taxi driver with a fetish for wounded women, and a romantic interest (Lindsay Pulsipher) who repeatedly dies.
Any attempts to make sense out of The Rambler are a waste of time, as Reeder throws up everything he can think of at the screen that will unsettle viewers. Some of these elements feel derivative on their own, while most of them are amateurish at best. The use of stock sound effects, radio static jump cuts and abundant gore give a cheap, amateur quality to the film that makes it more laughably bad than legitimately disturbing. What The Rambler amounts to is a series of boring vignettes, and when Mulroney’s character predictably abandons his “normal” brother after arriving it turns into an incomprehensible and annoying curiosity.
There’s still something to admire about Reeder’s direction. As bad as it can be, he clearly has a specific vision in mind that he carries out to what appears to be the best of his abilities, even if it fails at what it tries to do. Weirdness for its own sake isn’t a bad thing, but it has to have some sort of entertainment value if it wants to succeed. The Rambler is missing that quality, and as a result it suffers immensely. It’s a head-scratcher of a film, but only in that it’ll have you wondering how it got made in the first place.