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Volume 91, Issue 23
Tuesday, October 7, 1997
frosh and go
Stone triumphs minus the message
YOU HAVE A PIECE OF BROCCOLI IN YOUR TEETH, DARLING. Jennifer Lopez and Sean Penn make a filmic stew out of lust, madness and money in U-Turn.
A broken radiator hose in the middle of the Arizona desert is just another event in a long series of bad luck for Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn), a con man on his way to Las Vegas to settle a gambling debt which has already cost him two fingers. He is left stranded in Superior, a desperate and forgotten town, at the mercy of its bizarre and darkly comical population.
This is the setting of Oliver Stone's new movie, U-Turn. Fans of Stone's bigger films, Platoon, JFK and Natural Born Killers, will be surprised to find that his usual heavy social and political themes have been set aside for this gritty yet superficial thriller, which was made for less than $20 million.
Cooper's goal in the film is to carve out a new life for himself so his delay in Superior is more than frustrating. His impatience with just about every person he meets further complicates things. Some people could have helped him if he lost the attitude.
Cooper's temper and unscrupulous nature are never far below the surface. He immediately becomes involved with a couple, Grace McKenna (Jennifer Lopez) and her husband (Nick Nolte), who have a dirty secret and a love of mind games. They separately approach him with a murder scheme la Red Rock West.
His attempts to leave town are hindered by the locals, an assortment of small-town trash played brilliantly by Billy Bob Thorton, Jon Voight, Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix, among others. As if Superior's insane inhabitants aren't incentive enough to leave, Cooper has to worry about his Vegas creditors, who have difficulty believing his strange excuses.
Stone's style is heavily present but not distracting. The action is constant and his disconcerting use of extreme close-ups and distorted angles create a nightmarish world for Cooper's misadventures. As in most of Stone's films, especially Natural Born Killers, the subtext is presented in the form of disturbing "flashbacks" and images that may not exist within the "reality" of the story.
U-Turn's soundtrack includes sappy classics by the likes of Patsy Cline, which lend a strangely cheery tone to the film's violence and mayhem. The original music, done by film veteran Ennio Morricone, is exceptionally suited to the story. It ranges from mad-circus playful as the plot grows more and more complex and absurd, to haunting and tribal during its darker moments.
This unexpected offering from Stone is based on John Ridley's novel Stray Dogs. The film's production was plagued with problems, as the author was barred from the set and the first choices to play Cooper and Grace withdrew namely Bill Paxton and Sharon Stone.
Despite these setbacks and the "lighter" subject matter, U-Turn is a thoroughly enjoyable success. The "message," if any, is perhaps best summed-up by Cooper himself. "You don't believe in anything, do you, Bobby?" Grace asks, to which he replies, "I believe in this moment." And the rapid twists of the story don't give him much choice.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997