on his novel Stray Dogs
Thomas J. Nordberg
Sean Penn (Bobby Cooper)
Nick Nolte (Jake McKenna)
Jennifer Lopez (Grace McKenna)
Powers Boothe (Sheriff Virgil Potter)
Claire Danes (Jenny)
Joaquin Phoenix (Toby N. Tucker)
Jon Voight (Blind Man)
Billy Bob Thornton (Darrell)
Abraham Benrubi (Biker #1)
Richard Rutowski (Biker #2)
Bo Hopkins (Ed)
Julie Hagerty (Flo)
Laurie Metcalf (Bus Station Clerk)
Liv Tyler (Girl in Bus Station)
mpaa rating: R
availability: VHS -
reviewed on this website:
Cooper (Sean Penn), the eight-fingered loser in U-Turn,
is stranded in the godforsaken dustbowl of Superior, Arizona
-- land of scorpions and rednecks and whimsical, wise Indians.
It's the Southwest as a mystical Satanic sandbox, depicted with
trippy time-lapse photography, gory flash-cuts of torture and
mutilation, lurid close-ups of snakes and radiator hoses (they
both hiss in our faces). That this is an Oliver Stone film probably
goes without saying.
U-Turn is a gorgeous controlled mess -- a rest stop for
Oliver Stone, a detour from his usual heavy-breathing indictments
of American apathy. It's a film noir goof, stylized from
first shot to last, like David Lynch's Wild
at Heart only weirder (if that's even possible).
Is it a success? Visually, it isn't as abrasive as Stone's Natural Born
Killers; Stone sustains a hectic mood of paranoia, yet
he seems relaxed -- he isn't trying to say anything. U-Turn
is just two hours of Oliver Stone amusing himself, and he amused
Bobby is on the run from some vaguely-drawn Russian heavies,
to whom he owes serious money. He leaves his broken-down Mustang
with a grubby mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) and slouches into
town, where he promptly gets in over his head. A local woman,
Grace (Jennifer Lopez, luminous as always), catches Bobby's eye.
He goes back to her place to help her hang some drapes; they're
about to take their relationship to the next level when Grace's
jealous husband Jake (Nick Nolte) storms in. Jake pops Bobby
in the nose but later offers him a ride -- and a deal. See, Grace
has a big insurance policy, and ...
Yes, I know; we're supposed to see where this is going.
But surprises were never the point of film noir. Fans
of the genre expect twists and double-crosses; the only
surprise would be if everyone were on the level. No, noir
is about style and attitude and fatalism -- everything that,
say, Robert Mitchum could convey just by standing there. But
noir can't be done straight any more. Whether a panoramic
epic like L.A.
Confidential or a postmodern doodle like Lynch's Lost
Highway, it won't go far unless it's hitched to a larger
vision -- obsessive, parodic, or perverse.
Stone is eager to oblige. He takes a routine script by John Ridley
(adapting his novel Stray Dogs) and runs it through his
caffeinated vision of an amoral, sun-baked America. He strikes
gold with Nick Nolte, whose yellow crewcut and beard turn him
into a rotgut John Huston. Leering and growling in the repulsive-funny
manner of Rodney Dangerfield in Natural Born Killers,
Nolte leaves a bad taste in your brain; it's gutsy work from
a great actor. Stone also lampoons NBK's Mickey and Mallory
with a strange young couple -- flighty pixie Claire Danes and
jealous doofus Joaquin Phoenix -- who keep turning up to harass
Bobby. Jon Voight, though underused, is dryly witty as Stone's
familiar Indian sage.
Oddly, Stone all but ignores Sean Penn. Aside from some volcanic
fits of rage and the hilarious toothless voice he uses in his
final scene, Penn is less interesting here than in his brief
appearance in The Game. When two bad boys like Stone and
Penn collide, you expect more sparks to fly. But then the real
star of an Oliver Stone movie is the guy himself. Like Stone's
past few films, U-Turn is an abstract splatter of varying
film stock and discordant editing -- a jagged little pill that
goes down easy, only this one also wears off fast. This long,
strange trip is fun but aimless. I didn't mind; Stone can go
back to firebombing the American conscience next time.