Review: "180 South" a trip to Earth's outer reaches

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 20, 2010 - 2:46 PM

Film retraces 1968 road trip by framed ecological odd couple.

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Keith Malloy and Jeff Johnson in "180 South."

Photo: Woodshed Films,

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★★ 1/2 out of four stars

Unrated; suitable for all audiences. In English and subtitled Spanish.

Theater: Lagoon..

If you are thisclose to chucking it all in, packing your bags and going vagabond, by all means do not see "180° South." Director Chris Malloy's eco-tourist documentary could stoke your wanderlust to the point of no return.

The film tracks roustabout Jeff Johnson, whose commonplace name belies an explorer's soul. Inspired by a legendary 1968 transcontinental road trip by Yvon Chouinard (a self-described "dirtbag" who launched Patagonia activewear) and his climbing partner Doug Tompkins (founder of the Esprit and North Face clothing lines), Johnson follows his idols' route from California to the southern tip of Chile. They went in a rattletrap VW bus, while he sails down the western coast of South America. Johnson suffers epic seasickness and gets shipwrecked off Easter Island, which is a shame. Then again he hooks up with a righteous surfer lady on the island, and she shares the rest of his journey, which is sweet.

The film's a meandering affair. The camera's attention flits here and there -- Look! A mountain! Look! A valley! Look! A beach! We don't get to know much about Johnson, or his new lady friend. Johnson's pro-surfer pal Keith Malloy pops up here and there briefly, but goes AWOL at the first hint of good waves. When Johnson meets his heroes in the vast Patagonia wildlife preserve that Tompkins founded in 1991, the aimless travelogue brightens. Chouinard is a marvelous, peppery coot who fully expects the world to go to hell. Tompkins pontificates about social responsibility, and they spar amusingly, like an ecological Odd Couple.

The film has an odd heritage. It was produced by a Patagonia executive, and Keith Malloy is a onetime Patagonia employee. It says everything you would expect about heedless developers despoiling the land, lambasting hydroelectric development, but neglects to mention that Tompkins' preserve runs on hydro power. And it reaches an unusual conclusion. By the fade-out it looks as if romantic eco-protesters aren't nearly as effective in safeguarding the land as rich old capitalists who can buy up huge tracts and fence out the polluters.

★★ 1/2 out of four stars

Unrated; suitable for all audiences. In English and subtitled Spanish.

Theater: Lagoon..

  • 180 SOUTH

    ★★ 1/2 out of four stars

    Unrated by the MPAA; suitable for all audiences.

    Where: Lagoon. In English and subtitled Spanish.

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