There's something dispiritingly familiar about "Dancing on a Dry Salt Lake," writer-director-star Dominique De Fazio's tale of a white man's journey into Native American mysticism.
De Fazio plays Warner, a 40-something astronomer who heads out to the Californian desert after his live-in girlfriend dumps him for being too selfish. Warner crashes his car on the outskirts of San Bernardino County and ends up in a small community of European expats, among whom he develops a whole new personality (as a result of inconsistent writing, not as plot development).
Now a mensch par excellence, Warner locks horns with a domestic abuser and volunteers to perform manual labor. But those acts are merely penance in service of attaining his ultimate goal: to reach enlightenment by reading the stars for a message from God.
Compelling portraiture of religious transcendence remains a challenge for many filmmakers, De Fazio included. His depiction of Warner's small steps toward wisdom is painfully literal in that the character is seen walking Tai Chi-style in a number of scenes, practicing a kind of meditation by slow-motion stride.
Even worse is Warner's hokey relationship with a friendly Native American gas-station attendant (Aldred Montoya) who becomes his spiritual guide. The film's lack of momentum makes the pace stultifyingly slow, but it's the script's reliance on the musty Wise Indian trope that makes "Dancing" dead on arrival.
'Dancing on a Dry Salt Lake'
MPAA rating: Not rated
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills