Pali Road (2016)
With Michelle Chen, Sun Kang, Jackson Rathbone, and Henry Ian Cusick. Directed by Jonathan Lim. Written by Doc Pedrolie and Victoria Arch.
Lily is a young physician doing her residency at a hospital on Oahu. Her boyfriend Neil is a very nice teacher who wants to marry her; her ex-boyfriend Mitch is a slimy doctor she works for, who also seems to want to marry her. When Lily wakes up in the hospital after a bad car accident, she’s shocked to learn that she’s married to Mitch, she has a six-year-old son, and Neil doesn’t exist. Her parents, her best friend, and Mitch are supportive and understanding as she recovers from the crash, but they have no memory of Neil. According to everyone around her, this life in this enormous house with this family is the life she’s been living, but who’s Neil? Lily begins to doubt her own memories, and to question her sanity as real-world evidence of her relationship with Neil eludes her.
It’s a pretty good idea for a story, and the relationships established between the principal characters in early scenes makes it easy to root for Neil and to despise Mitch, whose every utterance sounds insincere and disingenuous. Mitch is that guy you knew in school who had all the teachers and parents fooled into thinking he was a golden boy, but whom none of the kids could stand because he was such a fraud. You almost don’t care how things work out in this film, as long as Mitch doesn’t end up with Lily.
A promising first act is followed by a slog of a second act, and most of it is the fault of director Jonathan Lim. The pacing is awful, the dialog is slow and drawn out, and the tension is cheapened by an overly dramatic, unnecessary score. Edits and visual effects are strange and distracting, and everything just takes too long to get where it’s going. Lily experiences some genuinely intriguing stuff as she struggles to find some connection between her memory and her reality, and the story elements are suspenseful enough without manipulative camera work, cheap effects, and an unexplainable police officer who, without any explanation, does things no officer except some stock character from a 1950s B-movie would ever do.
I hate to say this, because I would love it if everyone would see Pali Road and help it make tons of money so more films would be produced in my home state, but while the resolution is thoughtful and somewhat satisfying, the pivot on which it turns is so cheap that I never considered it as a possibility. That’s right: the explanation is predictable to the point of unpredictability, because who would think they could get away with it?
See it anyway, because Michelle Chen’s acting is pretty good, because the Hawaii scenery is exactly what you’d expect and then not exactly what you’d expect, and because it’s fun to see what Lily has to go through. Just go in with low expectations and comfortable shoes.
4 out of 10.
Pali Road opens in theaters (including the Kahala theater in Honolulu) on Friday, April 29.