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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 98 - U Turn (1997)

U Turn - 1997 Tristar Pictures
U Turn doesn’t really make sense; That’s kind of its big problem. It is the story of a man whose car breaks down on the desert highway after he flees the wrath of a bookmaker to whom he owes a great deal of money. Minus a few digits on one hand (a consequence for lack of payment), Bobby (Sean Penn) goes into a small town to wait out the heat and possibly get his car fixed. The problem is every person in this town is nuts and he ends up involved with a couple of crazed denizens’ lives while a lunatic mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) flat out refuses to let him have his car back. After Bobby engages a sexy stranger named Grace (Jennifer Lopez), her husband (Nick Nolte) exploits the opportunity to put a hit on his wife. Bobby’s situation gets worse when he discovers it is him that Grace’s husband wishes to be her killer.

If that sounded like a plot that you can get behind, then maybe you should become a screenwriter, because if that seems like a perfectly sensible plot, than anybody can write anything and it will make a great story. U Turn’s bad plot is just half of the story, it has strange artistic decisions that make this one a big turn off, and U Turn’s exploitative nature and over-sexualized tone is only a part of the gratuitousness. This is another example of a film that is contemptuous of audiences, and while there are countless films in this category, this one is particularly bad because it tries to cover up it’s lack of any real story or characters with any depth by filling every scene with disturbing and very, very graphic violence, bizarre music and some of the most awkward sexuality in any film, ever.

It is interesting how U Turn has such a good cast (J-Lo notwithstanding), which also includes Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thornton, Claire Danes and Jon Voight, and still manages to use all of these talented people badly (at least most of the time).  It tries so hard to be strange it forgets it is supposed to have a story.  Sean Penn is terrible here, mainly because he never seems really surprised by anything that happens in this place populated by psychos.  He's always playing it cool and spends most of his time acting like he's posing for an 70's cigarette ad and when he does exhibit frustration or any other emotion he sounds drunk.  The only person who sort of does well here is Thornton as a nutbag mechanic in a few memorable and funny scenes.

U Turn was the product of screenwriter John Ridley and director Oliver Stone. Stone was most well-known at this time for directing powerful films with a political message like Platoon and JFK, and stories with dark undertones like Natural Born Killers. He can make good movies, so I don’t know what happened here.  Shots are filled with wobbly camera shots that sway nauseatingly and fire at actors' faces from strange angles.  He really just kind of went off the deep end with this one.  Now, while Stone is talented, I can’t really say the same thing for Ridley, whose other credits include Undercover Brother and the Barbershop TV series. I guess given this pedigree it’s understandable this one would have been a gamble. Even Oliver Stone couldn’t save this one from being a slow and uncomfortable mess of a movie, and I say that despite the fact that he shares much of the blame for it being so bad. 

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