The Rover (R) (102 min.) — David Michod's second feature is grimmer, more dog-eat-dog than his first, 2010's Animal Kingdom, and that's saying something. The Rover is a nasty muddle of Australian Outback noir in broad, boiling daylight, starring Guy Pearce as a vengeful enigma chasing three men who stole his car while escaping a robbery gone wrong.
Set in a desolate near-future after an unexplained economic collapse, The Rover fascinates and frustrates in equal measure, with Michod withholding details of plot and character so thoroughly that a nihilistic fog sets in. It's all intended to set up a final scene explaining why Eric (Pearce) is so determined to retrieve his car, amounting to less of a payoff than intended. Yet the violent set pieces and one performance keep Michod's pointlessness interesting.
The performance springs from an unexpected source: Robert Pattinson, in his latest attempt to smash that Twilight saga pinup boy image. Pattinson plays it impressively slow-witted and Southern-accented as Rey, a fourth member of the robbery team left for dead by his accomplices, including his brother Henry (Scoot McNairy). Rey is too dumb to be angry, or to bristle at being Eric's hostage on the thieves' trail, the closest to innocence in this morally bankrupt scenario.
The Rover opens Friday at select Tampa Bay theaters. C+
Steve Persall, Times movie critic