Baldly referencing "Taxi Driver" is not the most original way to tell the story of a damaged young man, but "Down in the Valley" is wacky enough to get away with stuff like that. Or at least try to.
The movie stars Edward Norton as Harlan, a "cowboy" working at a gas station in the San Fernando Valley, where he meets and falls in love with Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), a high-school-age girl looking to get away from her overbearing dad (David Morse).
Echoes of "Badlands" and "Natural Born Killers" resonate early in the film as a relationship blossoms between the eccentric older guy and impressionable girl. Comparisons quickly dissipate, however, as we discover that Harlan isn't simply a wayward youth, but a real crazy person. One of the more delightful (some might say nutty) revelations about him is too important to reveal here, but let's just say he isn't really from South Dakota as he claims.
"Down in the Valley" is a strange mix of psychological intrigue, melodrama and B-movie action, as if writer and director David Jacobson were trying to make a homage to as much of contemporary American cinema as he could. The way writer-directors come and go these days, overstuffing may be a symptom of justifiable job insecurity.
By the end the film has had many climaxes, including breakups, reunions, confrontations and numerous shoot-outs. The odds are against Harlan, along with the movie he's in. There are a lot of interesting moments in-between the faults. But those faults are severe. "Down in the Valley" is not a noble failure as much as an entertaining mess. You may laugh when you're not supposed to, but you won't be bored. ** S