Review: Quaid, Efron make 'At Any Price' worth it

Zac Efron in At Any Price from Sony Pictures Classics.
Zac Efron in At Any Price from Sony Pictures Classics.
Published May 21, 2013

At Any Price (R) (105 min.) — Saving the family farm is the furthest thing from Dean Whipple's mind, distracted as he is by dreams of becoming a NASCAR champion and having silo sex with the town slut. Meanwhile, Dean's father, Henry, is obsessed with saving the farm, going to illegal and unethical lengths to do it while saving time to sex up the same slut. It's a dysfunctional family affair — Dallas transplanted to America's heartland.

Yet somehow from such boiler plate material director Ramin Bahrani and his co-writer Hallie Elizabeth Newton fashion sporadically compelling drama, a lack-of-character study trashy enough for fun and thoughtful enough to be taken seriously. Toss in another solid performance by Dennis Quaid as Henry and an unexpected one from Zac Efron as Dean and At Any Price becomes an inviting pastime, probably more so on home video.

Quaid's knack for blue-collar nobility comes in handy to play Henry, whose community standing would plummet if folks realized what a jerk he is. Henry's plan to save the farm involves copyrighted, genetically altered seeds, so there's a deep subplot about the ramifications of doing such business. Bahrani and Newton lighten up this unusual procedural with sex, lies and murder for a smartly soap operatic tone.

Efron makes hay with his richest role post-High School Musical, making Dean a rural rake with conflicting charisma. Bahrani has never been an action filmmaker; his respected resume is built upon odd slices of quiet, peripheral lives, like Man Push Cart and Goodbye Solo. But he expertly stages Dean's racetrack scenes, making them fast straightaways in a movie with its share of momentum-draining, high-banked curves. B (BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg)

Steve Persall, Times movie critic