December 22nd, 2010

U TURN (1997) ****

U Turn appropriately enough represented a U Turn for director Oliver Stone.  Instead of making a picture seeped in political ponderings and social commentary, he gave us a thoroughly awesome Neo-Noir thriller.  You can tell it’s going to be a departure for Stone by the opening credits because it says “An Oliver Stone Movie” and not “An Oliver Stone Film”.  It’s definitely not the sort of thing the audience was expecting, so they stayed away in droves.  Then again, the reason behind the film’s box office failure may just have been that the market was already saturated with Neo-Noir thrillers.  Really, I think the flick bombed because it features some of the most nihilistic, depraved, and unscrupulous characters ever seen in a motion picture.  That is to say, this movie rocks.


Sean Penn is a loser whose car breaks down in the middle of a weirdo desert town.  Whenever he isn’t mixing with the bizarro locals, he’s getting roped into a scheme by Nick Nolte to kill his hot wife (Jennifer Lopez).  She of course offers Penn more money to kill her husband. 


To divulge any more of the plot would be a total disservice to the viewer.  U Turn isn’t as much about the plot but Penn’s interaction with the crazy townspeople.  This place actually manages to out Twin Peaks Twin Peaks.  There’s the grimy mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) who plays Twister in his underwear, the brooding sheriff (Powers Boothe) who always turns up at the most inopportune times, and a blind Indian beggar (Jon Voight) whose wisdom Penn constantly ignores.  All of these actors give terrific off the wall performances but I think my favorite duo was the clueless bimbo (Claire Danes) and her nutzo boyfriend (Joaquin Phoenix).  It’s also prophetic that every time Phoenix shows up, Johnny Cash music plays.


U Turn also marks the one and only good performance Jennifer Lopez ever gave.  She even shows off her tits.  Maybe if she spent more time taking her clothes off and less time trying to sing, she could’ve been a pretty good actress.  The movie really belongs to Penn.  I freely admit that he’s not one of my favorite actors (mostly because of his politics and not necessarily for his acting abilities) but he’s amazing in this flick. 


This movie is ripe for rediscovery.  It is a surreal nightmarish masterpiece and an excellent showcase for Stone’s take no prisoners approach.  I wish he’d abandon his political movies and make more flicks like this one.