“A man who has no ethics is a free man.” – jealous husband Jake (Nick Nolte)
Oliver Stone’s trippy visual lark occupied with boneheads and lowlifes. U-Turn (1997) is kinda amusing as a no-way-out detour, featuring Sean Penn as a scuzzball named Bobby Cooper stuck in neutral while on his way to Las Vegas to pay-off debt to gangsters. Misfortunes begin when the radiator of his vintage red Mustang convertible blows in the hick town of Superior, Arizona. While waiting on the town mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton, the filthiest of rednecks), he gets entwined with a mocha-lips femme fatale (Jennifer Lopez) in a shoulder-strap orange dress. Jealous husband (Nick Nolte), a raging buck-toothed paranoid, naturally wants Bobby the drifter to kill his wife. There will be money.
This is a nightmare comedy melded in dirt, grease, sweat, bloodstains and Jon Voight’s mucous. Nothing is substantially important nor is there a political denunciation to be found – this was Stone’s ditty following the meaningful track record that included “Born on the 4th of July” (1989), “JFK” (1991), “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “Nixon” (1995). His current flick “Savages” is both, a drive-in movie like this one and a statement about the drug war polemic.
“U-Turn” is minor and inconsequential in retrospect, but it is a peek at what Stone’s black humor is like. His flick inextricably teeters on the annoying – the loud, gnarly, grating business of Murphy’s Law, i.e., nothing goes right for Bobby. For you to qualify for this, the sick, twisted honcho in you wants Bobby to jump through tedious hoops; somewhere the primitive within us finds that entertaining. You’re the type who thinks it’s funny when the s#*% hits the fan. You think vultures are interesting animals. Get it?
Writer John Ridley, who adapted from his book, provides the twists and turns while Stone applies his fiendish wild coyote sense of humor to each karmic debacle. Also on sight are Joaquin Phoenix, Powers Boothe, Claire Danes, Liv Tyler and Julie Haggerty as an assortment of weirdos.
125 Minutes. Rated R.
Film Cousins: “Detour” (1945); “Blood Simple” (1985); “Wild at Heart” (1990); “Red Rock West” (1994).