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1 item from 1997

Film review: 'U-Turn'

29 August 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Oliver Stone has turned around with "U-Turn", a dicey noir that careens wild and tight like a good old-fashioned B movie. It's snub-nosed Stone, a raucous entertainment that doesn't aim for the philosophical or political fences. Laced with a dark, absurdist sensibility, the film will debut this weekend at Telluride and likely delight festivalgoers with its brash economy and raunchy swagger.

More akin to "After Hours" and "Choose Me" in its surreal mesh of genres and bizarre humor, "U-Turn" is wicked amusement. In tone and telling, it's most akin to the filmmaking of Luis Bunuel, rife with undercurrents of degeneracy and human avarice and crested with outrageous humor. Movie buffs in particular will savor "U-Turn", especially for Sean Penn's rascally lead performances as well as the deliriously apt performances of such others as Jennifer Lopez and Billy Bob Thornton.

In chassis and structure, the story is, basically an old-time Western as a mysterious stranger rides into a sleepy desert town. In this case, the chap is Bobby (Penn), not astride a horse but tooling smooth in his 1964 + red Mustang -- that is, until it blows a hose and he's beholden to the local blacksmith, er, mechanic to get it fixed.

The grease monkey (Thornton) is a strange bird, golden-teethed and downright screwy; to boot, he knows he's got Bobby over a barrel. It's gonna take awhile, and it's gonna be expensive.

Bobby has time to kill, an unwelcome respite since the Vegas loan shark he's in hock to has threatened to kill him if he doesn't show up with his gambling debut; natch, he doesn't have the dough. When he wanders into town, he encounters a dirt-crazy bunch of yokels and it doesn't take him long to get butt-deep in hot water.

The trouble comes in the beauteous form of the local femme fatale, Grace (Jennifer Lopez). She's a sizzler and it's downright obvious that her sexuality is her Trump Card, and she has her geezer of a hubby (Nick Nolte) whipped into a dither with paranoid jealousy. Right away, Bobby is in the thick of things in this parched little outpost.

Crackling with juicy dialogue and ambling up all the right, wrong roads, John Ridley's screenplay is a smartly lubricated blend of genre parts. It keeps us on our heels and more than a little on-edge in where it's going -- in short, darn good storytelling. Although no one has ever accused Stone of having a light, comic touch, it's obvious he has a bizarre sense of irony and has forged here a crisp and wickedly funny entertainment. There is beneath its raw trappings, however, a deeper tale -- how far will a basically honest and decent person go when backed up against a wall, or trapped in a stifling dust bowl of a town? As you would guess in a Stone movie, they go to the limit -- or just past.

What makes "U-Turn" special, though, is the characters, as sidewinding a bunch of varmints as you would ever want to encounter. As Bobby, our touchstone character, Penn is terrific. Rough-edged, sympathetic and cunning, all at once. As the squirrelly auto mechanic, Thornton is hilarious and scary all at once, while Nolte is perfect as the young beauty's bedeviled husband. Jon Voight does an eerie turn as a blind man. But it's Lopez's wickedly wenchy performance as the femme fatale that is the lynchpin for all the craziness and all the conflicts: It's her sexuality, we see, that sets off all the explosions in this twisted little town. In short, there is great casting, a credit to casting director Mary Vernieu.

Technically, "U-Turn" is superb, as cinematographer Robert Richardson's acidic, parched hues clue us to the inner roilings of the characters, while Victor Kempster's smart, off-center production design is aptly both odd and scary.

Similarly, the herky-jerky, jump-cut punctuation is perfect. Hats off to editors Hank Corwin and Thomas J. Nordberg for the crafty cadence. As an added bonus, composer Ennio Morricone orchestrated the sounds for this spaghetti-based Southwestern. Properly, the music is more toned to the bad and the ugly than the good.


Sony Releasing

TriStar Pictures

Phoenix Pictures presents

an Illusion Entertainment Group production

in association with Clyde Is Hungry Films

An Oliver Stone movie

Producers Dan Halsted, Clayton Townsend

Director Oliver Stone

Screenwriter John Ridley

Based on "Stray Dogs" by John Ridley

Executive producer John Ridley

Director of photography Robert Richardson

Production designer Victor Kempster

Editors Hank Corwin, Thomas J. Nordberg

Executive music producer Budd Carr

Music Ennio Morricone

Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor

Co-producer Richard Rutowski

Casting Mary Vernieu

Sound mixer Gary Alper



Bobby Cooper Sean Penn

Darrell Billy Bob Thornton

Blind Man Jon Voight

Grace McKenna Jennifer Lopez

Sheriff Potter Powers Boothe

Jake McKenna Nick Nolte

Ed Bo Hopkins

Flo Julie Hagerty

Toby N. Tucker Joaquin Phoenix

Running time -- 125 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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1999 | 1997

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