movie review by Mark Leeper

Oliver Stone gives us a story that would have been good had it not followed
RED ROCK WEST and LONE STAR. This film might have made a decent
low-budget film with a nothing cast. Instead it under-uses several major stars who brought little
special to their roles. Sean Penn plays a small-time crook who is trapped in an Arizona
town and becomes a pawn in conflicting deadly games.
Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4), 5 (0 to 10)


There is nothing superior about Superior, Arizona, an all but dead town with a few people living in the carcass. Small time hood Bobby Cooper, played by Sean Penn, has engine trouble and must pull into Superior to get his car fixed. The one garage near town is run by a desert rat of a mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) who gives more trouble than service. Cooper leaves his car and goes into town and after a bizarre interchange with a blind half-Indian beggar (a well-disguised Jon Voight) he gets himself involved with attractive Grace McKenna (Jennifer Lopez of Selena). Too late he finds she has a husband Jake (Nick Nolte whose performance owes a lot to Bruce Dern). Soon Jake and Grace are each trying to embroil Cooper in a plot to kill the other. If that were not enough of a problem there are people coming to town to collect on a bad debt. And to further complicate matters a local bully wants to show how tough he is by beating up Cooper. Cooper cannot expect too much help from the town's unfriendly Sheriff Potter (Powers Booth). This seems to be a fly-speck town where everybody either has a dark secret or is working full time on getting one, and too many of these plots involve Cooper. Most of the plot twists are telegraphed as the film wends its way to a rather bloody and violent last reel. But by this point we do not care particularly what happens to Cooper who is not particularly likable, even less smart, and who basically floats like a cork and generally is acted upon rather than acting himself.

In general this film is top-heavy with style touches that add to uneven effect where less might have been considerably more. John Ridley's script based on his novel Stray Dogs might have made a more effective as a low-budget independent film with fewer self-indulgent style experiments. Oliver Stone has just a bit too much fun here laughing a little too hard at exaggerated eccentrics for us to really take the story seriously and the light-hearted score by Ennio Morricone is a little too flippant. Stone under-utilizes expensive actors where unknowns might have worked a lot better.

Since Natural Born Killersweird camera effects have been a Stone hallmark. Even Nixon had to have a few weird visual effects and here there are more than the story needs. The film opens with Cooper driving down a road under credits that look like they were scratched into the film. There are repeated images of vultures showing how little sympathy this corner of Arizona has for the weak or unprepared. Robert Richardson's cinematography experiments with film stocks as much as it does with light. He will drop into black and white and then jump to a grainy super-saturation of color. None of this does much to help the mood of the film.

U-Turn is one of those films in the middle ground. Its flaws are in large part ones we could overlook in a new filmmaker and still say he is promising. From a now major filmmaker like Oliver Stone, it probably must be considered just a minor effort and perhaps a false step. I give it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

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