Clay Bidwell - Joaquin Phoenix (To Die For, Cable Guy, Return to Paradise)

        Lester Long - Vince Vaughn (Swingers, Lost World, Return to Paradise)

        Dale Shelby - Janeane Garofalo (Truth About Cats and Dogs, Copland)

        Amanda - Georgina Cates (A Soldier's Sweetheart, An Awfully Big Adventure)

Director: David Dobkin

Previews: Patch Adams

The genre of dark comedy is nothing new to moviegoers, but in recent years, it seems to have had a resurgence. The humor and enjoyment found in these films stems from two lines of thinking. First off, it helps some people to deal with their problems by laughing or reveling in either the misfortune of others. Secondly, we laugh nervously about situations so appalling and disturbing, that humor is the only way we have to deal with them. Both of these elements are at work in Clay Pigeons, a prototypically disturbing debut directed by David Dobkin, and written by Matthew Healy, the first foray for both, into feature movies

This movie reintroduces a societal element that I've mentioned in my reviews before. Somewhere, just across that comfortable line of reality where we all live, resides people whom we are afraid to admit exist in this world, yet that we know truly do. These are bad people, through and through, some, worse than others, but all bad in their own way. The fictional town in Clay Pigeons (set somewhere in Montana, according to references) is a haven for these folk. Small town America, gone wickedly wrong (just a step below Oliver Stone's U Turn burg). Sheriffs bend rules and look the other way, gossip runs rampant, as does adultery and a complete lack of morals, and that seems to suit the residents here just fine. It is their naiveté which makes them the most innocent though, they are unaffected by that which occurs outside the borders of town, and prefer to remain in their own twisted, blissful slumber. However curiosity of the outside world exists, like that of the dilemma created by strange noises emanating from a neighbors backyard, you want to peek, but know you shouldn't, afraid of what you'll see, but also enthralling curious about what lie over there.

Bring on Lester Long. His maniacally fun loving laugh, his eyes which switch from fun, to twisted, without even an effort, and most of all, his confidant swagger draws a slight attention, and curiosity, to the citizens here, and he entwines himself quickly in their lives, thus beginning the snowball of this movies plot. The story involves murder, adultery, double-crosses, chases, and some pretty unnerving laughs. The movie flows smoothly, snowballing and building towards a surprisingly unpredictable but smart ending. Phoenix seems to be at the center of them all, not helped by a vampily conniving Cates, who switches from innocent to wicked, faster than Vanilla Ice's rap career. Enter in Garofalo, as a sharp-witted, but not perfect, FBI agent, chasing a serial killer. It is the interactions and development of these characters, which provides this movie with most of its enjoyability. Each shows comic, dramatic, and dark sides, while playing off each other, in a realistic and intelligent manner. The script is well written, the scenery is murky and desolate, similar to the plight of all the characters, and the soundtrack is very fitting to the situations.

All of the performances are strong and once again, befitting of a certain role in the story. Each knows, and does their part, nothing more nothing less. Garofalo infuses the movie with the best lines, delivered to perfection in her sarcastic monotone. proves that her sense of humor and down-homieness, does indeed have a dark side, and shows it with great ease. Phoenix once again shows his dramatic range, playing the victim who really isn't that innocent, and also is not a pushover. Vaughn's character shows me more than ever now, that he actually may be able to pull off Norman Bates, by being calm, then psychotic, but always in control of things. He is eerily, confident and humorous, making you laugh, cringe, and sending chills down your spine, all within the same scene.

The pleasure of this movie comes from its commitment to its darkness. murder-comedy can. The characters are flawed, but emotional, and real people. It never slows, nor is really that predictable, because it never hides anything from you, allowing you to realize the gravity and darkness of things, while still finding a humorous way to deal with the disturbing tones and subject matter. It lets you realize that the real horror, and fear, is that this town and the people in it, really do exist in the world, and that we should feel safer, and more comfortable, that this town isn't near us. ($$$$)

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