U-Turn Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Everyone has a past, everyone has pain, and everyone wants something.

Under a harsh desert sun, two-bit hood Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn), on his way to Vegas with a bag of money to pay off some gambling debts, has car trouble. Being in the middle of nowhere, he is forced to make a stopover in the town of Superior, Arizona. Unfortunately, this hapless protagonist soon finds himself unable to escape from the god-forsaken and amoral pit-of-despair, a place where 'you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave'.

What happened to your hand?
Had an accident.
You should be more careful.

The first local he meets is the car repairman from hell, Darrell ("Sling Blade" writer/director Billy Bob Thornton), who manages to always find something else wrong with the car and mercilessly holds Bobby's 64&1/2 red Mustang hostage until he can come up with payment for the ever-escalating repair bill. Heading into town while Darrell takes his car apart, Bobby runs into Grace McKenna (Jennifer Lopez, hot off of "Selena" and "Anaconda"), a devil in a red dress who invites him over to her house to hang drapes. Unfortunately, while in a compromising position, Grace's husband, local real estate mogul Jake McKenna (Nick Nolte) arrives home and promptly decks the uninvited guest. However, as Bobby takes the long lonely walk back to town, Jake drives up next to him and in a surprising change of heart, offers Bobby money to kill Grace.

What happened to your face?
Had an accident.
Another accident? You should be more careful.

Bobby, being a decent everyman, spurns Jake's offer. However, he soon finds the offer enticing when the money he owes for his gambling debts is blown to shreds when he is caught in the crossfire during a convenience store hold-up. Unable to pay to get his car back and with mobsters on their way to town to collect their money, Bobby has no choice-- he takes Jake up on his offer.

I've done a lot of things in my life, but I'm not a murderer.
How do you know if you haven't tried?

However, Bobby soon learns two rules of life in Superior, Arizona from a 'blind Indian' (Jon Voight): that things are not what they seem, and nothing ever goes as planned. As he desperately tries to find a way to replace the lost money and get his car back, Bobby becomes embroiled in increasingly dangerous exploits. He has a change of heart about killing Grace after she recounts her tormented past at the hands of Jake. He also ticks off a local tough, Toby N. Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix), who thinks that Bobby is trying to 'make time' with his flirtatious airhead girlfriend Jenny (Claire Danes from "Romeo and Juliet"). Meanwhile, the local Sheriff (Powers Boothe) is watching Bobby like a hawk, suspicious of his motivations. And just when you think things can't possibly get any worse for Bobby, they do.

A waitress named Flo... Christ.

The subversive black-comedy/tragedy of "U-Turn" is a bit of a detour for Oliver Stone with the usual socio-political commentary noticeably absent. Superficially, it may seem to be another vulgar exercise in the MTV-school-of-filmmaking (along the lines of "Natural Born Killers"): the gritty, over-exposed, free-hand cinematography; the rapid-fire intercutting of images that form a stream-of-consciousness game of free-association; and the raw graphic violence that lays open the basal animal instincts of man. However, whereas "Natural Born Killers" was more of an exposition on violence and the media (which also lacked any truly sympathetic characters), "U-Turn" is a homage to film noir. Based on the novel "Stray Dogs" by crime writer John Ridley (who also penned the screenplay), it echoes noir classics such as "Detour", "Touch of Evil", and "Duel in the Sun". Audiences latch onto Bobby immediately, a hapless schmuck having a really bad day while being embroiled in the bombardment of deceit, betrayal, and lust (a standard convention of the film noir genre), and root for him throughout the startling, yet logical plot twists. "U-Turn" is also a very funny film, full of off-kilter humor, especially Bobby's dealings with Darrell and Jenny.

How come Patsy Cline don't put out no more new records?
'Cause she's dead.
Oh... that so sad... don't that make you sad?
I've had time to get over it.

In summary, "U-Turn" is one hell of a ride, and probably one of the most, if not the most memorable film you will see this year. It has dazzling visuals reminiscent of acid-inspired experimental film, a great moody soundtrack, a carefree style of subversive humor (that is a lot more amusing than Quentin Tarantino's 'violence is funny' shtick), and some over-the-top performances. Oliver Stone has certainly improved on the experimental style that he first toyed with in "Natural Born Killers".

Is everyone in this town on drugs?

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