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u-turn

review by rob gonsalves

director
Oliver Stone

screenwriter
John Ridley
based on his novel Stray Dogs

producers
Dan Halsted
Clayton Townsend

cinematographer
Robert Richardson

music
Ennio Morricone

editors
Hank Corwin
Thomas J. Nordberg


cast

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
running time: 125m
u.s. release: 10/3/97
video availability: VHS - DVD
official website


other oliver stone films
reviewed on this website:

- alexander
- any given sunday

- natural born killers
- nixon


Bobby 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 me, too.

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.



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