U Turn (1997) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, sexuality and language
Running Time: 125 min.

Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Claire Danes
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay: John Ridley (based on his book)

Review published April 3, 1998

I'm beginning to think Oliver Stone (W., World Trade Center) took a fierce tumble down a flight of steps that affected his head in some way. Here he employs the same short-attention span style of directing he used in his previous outing, Natural Born Killers. It was unsuccessful in both cases, but while the style was appropriate for Killers, it serves merely as an annoying and repetetive distraction in U-Turn.

An unscrupulous gambler (Penn, Dead Man Walking) on the run from some bookies travels to California but his car breaks down on the way in a small Arizona town. While waiting for his car to be repaired, he loses all of his money when he gets in the middle of a robbery and shootout. Desperate for money to get the hell out of there before his bookies nail him, he agrees to a proposition by a local businessman (Nolte, I Love Trouble) offers the man several thousand dollars to kill his wife (Lopez, Anaconda) . On his assignment to kill the wife, she offers him all of the husband's money and a future with her if he kills her husband. Now caught in a feud between a loveless marriage, he doesn't know who to trust, as he begins to uncover disturbing facts about both parties.

The story itself is derivative. You've seen the common man stranded in a town full of crazy eccentics with no way out done much better in After Hours. You've seen the double-crossing noirish plotline between lovers done better in After Dark My Sweet and The Grifters. You've seen the small western town full of corruption and conspiracy done better in Red Rock West and The Hot Spot.

There's no question that this could have been made into a good film. There's also no question that Stone is a talented director who can make powerful and passionate films. And there's no question that the style he employs for this film is done by the hands of a master, but that style is also inconsistent with the type of story this is, and in doing so leaves the viewer with a feeling of detachment to the goings on where there should have been engrossment. There's a lot to like here, with fine performances and an interesting storyline, but Stone takes what could have been a work of art and spray paints graffiti all over the best parts.

Qwipster's rating:

1998 Vince Leo