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IN SHORT: Earth to Oliver Stone: welcome back
You see it immediately as U-Turn starts. The most important thing about the title sequence of U-Turn is the line "An Oliver Stone Movie". Not film, movie. Perhaps Stone has finally come to realize that the last few films he's made haven't been entertaining or palatable, and he's out to correct that. He's a terrific filmmaker, that's a given. It's just that his last couple of films didn't entertain. Movies are meant to entertain.
The second major joy of U-Turn is that not once does Stone bring up the JFK assassination. Not once.
The third joy of U-Turn is that it is filled with sick, twisted, black humor which is very funny.
The problem is that, while Stone has made a movie which has a lot of good stuff in it, it all comes out like a load of half cooked pasta hitting the wall. Some of it will stick and some won't. By the time it's done, it's more bewildering than enthralling.
8 fingered Bobby (Sean Penn) is heading for Vegas to pay off a gambling debt to some Russian sharks. At one point the debt is $30K, at another $13K (but it could be mispronunciation, accents will do that). It's irrelevant, 'cuz his 1964 1/2 primo red Mustang blows a hole in his radiator hose and he's stuck in Superior, Arizona. Superior is, to be fair, a town close to death. And so is Bobby, when the moron car fixer-upper (Billy Bob Thornton) demands an outrageous cash payment for replacing the hose.
Bobby has entered hell, no question about it. Everything that happens to him is the punchline of some kind of black humor -- every bottle is glass and every one of 'em breaks before he can take a swig. A store is robbed at gunpoint when he, with his duffel bag stuffed with cash, is in it. (In a dying town there is no money in this town. Anyone trying to rip off a store owner is, no doubt about it, dumb. Or on drugs. Bobby suggests that both may be the case.) Either way, his thousands in cash are soon confetti.
This is a town in which only two of its women are of eligible, but only one is of age (Julie Hagerty in a bit part and Claire Danes as the underage dreamer). Married gal Grace (Jennifer Lopez) knows she's good looking and struts her stuff. Whether she has had affairs with all the men in the town is unknown. What is known is that her hubby, real estate magnate Jake McKenna (Nick Nolte) believes she is. That (and the $50,000 life insurance policy on her head) is good enough reason to pay to have her killed. Commenting on all that occurs is Blind Indian (Jon Voight).
I haven't even mentioned Danes' psycho boyfriend (Joaquin Phoenix) or the sherriff (Powers Boothe). That's more than enough story stuff to keep everything interesting. It's more than enough, given the chops of the acting crew, to deliver a great movie. But while the movie is stitched together, like a lot of interesting short stories, there is no overall point to it all. Which is fine if you're target is the art house circuit, where U-Turn is heading and will find raves.
What Stone hasn't let go of is that arthouse thinking. The multitude of film stocks and resolutions. The quick shift from color to black and white. Fast cuts to symbolic images. Granted, it's not even close to the vomitous Natural Born Killers but it's enough to distract. For me, distraction is not entertaining.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for U-Turn, he would have paid . . .
Some of U-Turn is very funny but, more to the point, there is no point to this flick.
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