- Sean Penn as Bobby Cooper
- Jennifer Lopez as Grace McKenna
- Nick Nolte as Jake McKenna
- Powers Boothe as Sheriff Virgil
- Billy Bob Thornton as Darrell
- Claire Danes as Jenny
- Joaquin Phoenix as Toby N. Tucker
- Jon Voight as Blind Indian
A movie that caused a mixed opinion on release, U Turn is actually a head-spinning mashup of noir and dark comedy, wrapped in the guise of a fever dream. This wont be every viewer’s cup of tea, but is inventively strange and overripe with a cast willing to surrender to the baffling weirdness present.
Bobby Cooper is a gambler and two-bit criminal who is driving down the highway to Las Vegas to pay off debts to the mob. Armed with the money, Bobby wants nothing more than to settle the deal and be on his way. His unlucky streak has other ideas as his car breaks down and he’s forced to enter the town of Superior, Arizona. Now to say that this place isn’t a dust bowl and populated by some of the strangest people on Earth is a lie, as Bobby discovers the strange and dark ways that these people live by and how he just wants to leave. The local mechanic Darrell takes delight in annoying him with his obnoxious and unscrupulous ways that test Bobby’s patience no end and his day just goes from bad to worse from then on. A robbery at the local convenience store deprives him of the money he needs to pay of gangsters and puts him in a deadly situation. It’s at this point that the darkness increases with the introduction of seductive Grace McKenna and her brutal, older husband Jake. Grace entrances Bobby with her teasing ways and gorgeous beauty. While Jake makes him an offer that is very tempting but could be tainted. Jake asks that Bobby kill his flirty wife and a lot of money could come his way. Now while Bobby is no saint when it comes to criminal acts, he is more than a little hesitant to commit murder. Yet in a dire situation, what is he supposed to do? Complicating this twisted web is Grace seducing Bobby and bringing him into her plot to have her husband killed and make off with his hidden millions. More encounters with the unusual residents( such as the ditzy nympho Jenny and her short fused psycho boyfriend Toby N. Tucker, as well as a sheriff that is always skulking about) of Superior unnerve and annoy Bobby as he attempts every conceivable way to leave, yet seems to be thwarted at every turn. In need of money quickly and desperate to get out of the creepy town in at least one piece, he is left with either the plan to kill Grace or kill Jake; both of which could get him the stashes of money he craves. Let’s just say that events will go south and very bloody for all involved in this dark neo noir/ black comedy that just brings new meaning to the word weird.
I must say I found U Turn refreshing as it showed me a different side to Oliver Stone’s film making. From what I’ve viewed of his work, he is adept at directing films that confront issues and politics in a very well done way. But I enjoyed seeing him let loose and revel in the darkness of the story and the hazy world of unusual individuals that Bobby finds himself in and tries to inexorably escape from. This isn’t one of Stone’s movies that is addressing any big ideas, but he gives the film a real stamp of his through demented events and weird happenings; all captured in a style highly reminiscent of an acid trip, complete with rapid fire editing, grainy styling and overlapping scenes. Stone is firing on all cylinders here, finding twisted comedy and lurid deceit in the neo noir story at play and obviously having fun with it. You see as much as U Turn is a crime film and noir, it is also something of a black comedy, and let me not forget that Stone tips his hat to the western genre in the setting and some of the tone. It isn’t funny is a way that many people will traditionally laugh at, instead finding humour in disquieting events of which many are so wildly over the top that you will gasp as it basks in perverse glory. Now while U Turn is an underrated surreal film, it’s not without flaws. The main one is the pace growing slightly stale in the middle stretch of the film and your interest could very well wander. The sheer abundance of visuals being thrown at us gets at times a bit bloated, yet there is hope as both flaws are rectified by an electric and twisting final part of the film that redeems whatever flaws came before it. A superlative score that skilfully crosses between the humour and brutality of the film is provided by the great Ennio Morricone, who shapes the score with unusual cues and melodies to further put us under the spell of the hypnotic and surreal events unfurling.
I really enjoyed watching the cast of great actors and actresses put into all these whacked out situations and give it their best shots, all making an impact in some way. Sean Penn is effective in the role of Bobby, who is something of our anti-hero in this strange odyssey. Penn rightfully does make Bobby a really likable guy, instead showcasing his arrogance and intolerance. Yet he imbues the character with a growing sympathy that is hard to forget as he endures the hardships of the crazy town and the murderous plans he is sucked into. Jennifer Lopez sizzles as the femme fatale Grace, lulling Bobby into her devious plans for money. Yet unlike some actresses that just make the temptress role just seductive and nothing else, Lopez excellently brings forth a damaged and saddened side to the character that makes it something different to the usual deadly lady. Granted she is still seductive and dangerous, but it was a bit refreshing to see another interpretation of the femme fatale role. The appropriate nastiness and sleaziness is brought to the table by Nick Nolte as the brutish Jake, who growls his way through life with violence never far away. Then there is Powers Boothe, who appears to be the one decent law-abiding citizen in town, but who may be far from it. A devilish and unrecognizable Billy Bob Thornton turns in a memorable performance as the disagreeable grease monkey that gets more testing to impatient Bobby as the film goes on. With his ragamuffin appearance and sneering smiles, Thornton just adds even more weirdness to the proceedings complete with grimy humour. Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix more than gamely play their roles of the floozy with a naive attitude and her petulant, man-child boyfriend. Both stars find ridiculousness and humour within both of the loopy characters. Jon Voight appears as a blind shaman, who talk philosophically to anyone that will listen and is actually pretty spot on about an upcoming carnage that will be brutal.
It does have its moments when it gets a bit much and the middle half drags, but taking all of that into account, U Turn represents an underrated film by Oliver Stone that puts weird into a whole other dimension with editing, good performances and the noir atmosphere tinged with black comedy.