29 Palms (2002) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, violence, brief drug use and some sexual content
Running time: 93 min.

Cast: Jeremy Davies, Rachel Leigh Cook, Michael Rapaport, Chris O'Donnell, Russell Means, Jon Polito, Bill Pullman, Keith David, Michael Lerner
Director:  Leonardo Ricagni
Screenplay: Tino Lucente
Review published August 13, 2003

It's hard to watch so many good character actors get together in a film that doesn't explore great characterizations, yet here they are, doing what they can to inject life in yet another gimmicky, flashy thriller following a bag full of money as it passes from bad guy to bad guy.  Usually, I can still find b-movie enjoyment in these kinds of derivative flicks, but 29 Palms just doesn't have enough to it to sustain a full-length feature.  You would think that director Ricagni knows this as well, as it seemed like a fourth of the running length was spent in flashback montages to things we've already seen, slow-motion camera work, and lingering shots of the desert that do nothing to push forward the scene or story.  If you want to see someone try to make 50 minutes of movie stretch out into 90 minutes, here's your opportunity, but if they're going to pad a film this much, they would have been better off showing the same 50 minute film back to back (so we can exit early) rather than chop it it all up and make us sit through it all again every few minutes just to get to the end.

Indian casino owners give hitman O'donnell the bad of cash to put out a hit on a man they were tipped off to be an FBI agent.  A security guard sees the cash, and decided to grab it for himself and make his escape.  Soon, a police officer gets involved and he wants it...and so on and so on and so on.

Despite the familiar cast, the annoyance factor is quite high despite each actor's likeability.  Do you want to see O'Donnell as a bad-ass?  Sure, if only just to snicker.  Rapaport is his whiny self, except not very funny here, while Davies continues his string of loopy oddball characters that almost requires subtitles to understand his constant mumbling and ineffectual gesturing.  Bill Pullman plays a freaky bus station clerk in such an obviously dopey way, while the chosen eye-candy chick, Rachel Leigh Cook, isn't appealing enough to carry the load. 

What you're left with is a derivatively plotted movie with an uneven cast and a director that runs out of ideas long before it's halfway over.  I'm going to give the film one bit of credit here, and that it is a good looking film for one shot on a modest budget...so proper respect to cinematographer Horacio Moira.  Other than that, 29 Palms is an instantly forgettable throwaway that makes you yearn for Tarantino (whose Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are plagiarized quite liberally here) to return soon to put the genre back on track.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo