It’s a good thing that filmmakers are beginning to tackle the centuries of economic exploitation of indigenous peoples. There’s also no rule that any treatment of the subject needs to be po-faced and worthy, so a modern western could be an ideal medium for such a subject. However, for all its good intentions The Stolen Valley is a mess of tonal clashes, ludicrous and contrived plotting, and woefully thin characterisation. There are some game performances from the leads of this Thelma & Louise-style caper, but precious little else.

Lupe (Briza Covarrubias) is a young mechanic who was raised by her Navajo mother Adamina (Paula Miranda). Lupe believed her father was dead, but when Adamina falls ills with a brain tumour, it’s revealed that her father Carl (Micah Fitzgerald) is alive and owns Adamina’s ancestral land. Lupe resolves to meet her father and see if he can be persuaded to provide the money for the expensive treatment. Before she even sets off, she accidentally finds herself in a shootout involving Maddy (Allee Sutton Hethcoat), a rodeo rider who owes money to a local gangster. On the run from his henchmen, the two need to shake off their pursuers and get to Adamina’s old home.

It’s clear that writer/director Jesse Edwards is trying to employ a lighter touch to get his message across, but the heartfelt sincerity is at cross purposes with the execution. Within 10 minutes of meeting, our heroines are posing as flamenco dancers in a biker bar in order to avoid Maddy’s creditors, and it only gets more silly from here as contrivances build up and any semblance of believability gets poleaxed by a revelation that could come straight from a telenovella.

On the plus side Briza Covarrubias gives a performance that’s easily the best thing about the film. She adds what depth there could be to her thinly drawn character and it’s thanks to her that any watchable, sincere moments have any resonance at all. Alle Sutton Hethcoat has less joy with the entirely one-dimensional rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl Maddy, but still finds a spark with Covarrubias. The Utah landscapes are also well captured by Edwards himself. For all its other issues, it’s not an ugly movie to look at.

There’s the germ of a good idea here, and genre can absolutely be used to deal with these kind of themes – see Blood Quantum by the sadly late Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby – but Edward’s attempt to marry its serious messaging with trappings of a road movie caper simply fails. It’s as if the filmmaker has been so determined not to be preachy that he’s drastically over-corrected.

Available to stream from Mon 15 Apr