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Written by / 5/13/2016 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , ,

PENN STUCK IN STONE'S DESERT NOIR U-TURN

Sean Penn phones in Oliver Stone's mindtrip neo noir excursion within a small town purgatory Year Released: 1997
"If I were a bird," says Jennifer Lopez's lovely U-TURN ingenue, "I'd fly to Disney World, Florida." This as she walks slowly up towards a cliff as Sean Penn, falling in love or perhaps, already having fallen, is right behind her, beforehand given a task to, basically, make the word fallen literal. "I've never been there," she finishes. And with dialogue like this, it's Oliver Stone that needs pushing...

This song plays in the beginning!
Although, while the PLATOON icon has written some things fantastic, others not so much, this script, based on a novel titled STRAY DOGS and the movie title changed to U-TURN, is written by someone else entirely... Name's forgotten, and thus should remain.

Twilight Time
This relatively small-scale project for a big budget Stone is pure b-movie Film Noir camp in that Sean Penn's main character, a desperately aimless hood with a gun and bag in the trunk of a broken down convertible... the vehicle left at Billy Bob Thornton's repair shop... eventually gets mixed-up between an old man and his trophy wife... Sound familiar, Noir fans?

Not only that, but Penn's seemingly pointless wanderer, played with a lethargic, phoned-in and yet, as usual, vulnerably weepy aura, who happens to owe big bucks to an angry drug dealer somewhere far away from this town that probably doesn't even have one horse, used to be a tennis instructor. You can't get any more Noir than that, can you?

Bo Hopkins with Phoenix
But the reason U-TURN is pure (Neo) Noir is that title alone, the sign alone giving Penn the option to NOT venture into the closer of two crossroad cities in a purgatory desert existence, where hallucinatory images are shown throughout as if Oliver still suffered the surreal NATURAL BORN KILLERS contrived "trippy" MTV editing of flashbacks and/or expressions, providing glimpses to either what people are talking about outside or feeling inside, or clips of irritated animals, either stuffed or real, for no reason whatsoever: think Terrence Mallick for DUMMIES.

Penn stranded
Meanwhile, the music, other than eclectic tunes heard on radios... including Ween's awesome PISS UP A ROPE... is downright horrific, practically ruining a film that could have been vapidly entertaining otherwise, and downright shocking that this banal score comes from the usually fantastic Spaghetti Western legend Ennio Morricone, a barrage of tinkly synthetic rain-drops, sounding more like a variation of the INSPECTOR GADGET cartoon theme than what the town would actually "feel" if audible...

Even an intense liquor store robbery seems like Bugs Bunny's about to ask Doc What's Up as guns are blazing. And as for the beginning of the trip: had Penn's extremely unlucky lone wolf, Bobby Cooper, made that U-TURN, he'd have probably lived, making his decision the most important element herein...

Then again, his car's main hose was busted, so there was no other choice in the matter... Kind of a Noir Double-Whammy... On his way to pay back a drug dealer, he's thrust into the middle of nowhere, which actually turns out to be somewhere, kinda...

Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Daines
Enter the town of Superior, Arizona (?) where Penn, after happening upon a blind, town drunk Indian played by Jon Voight, turning in a horrible role only a genius could pull off, and, to make a long story short, and further enhancing the particular crime genre, Penn becomes part of a perverted love triangle, quickly meeting the stunning Jennifer Lopez as trophy wife to Nick Nolte's richest man in town. Lopez and Nolte eventually play the stranger as a wishbone in the usual melodramatic fashion; a killer for hire who has feelings for his prey... Thus, he has two targets to choose from...

Bo circa1978...
And the choice isn't unpredictable, for Jennifer's sultry, sexy, voluptuous Grace McKenna is a far more lucrative choice than Nick Nolte, donning a pair of fake teeth for absolutely no reason... And off that beaten path from the steamy mainline, one of the best scenes takes place at a shoe-fly diner harboring a bored Bo Hopkins, waitress Julie Hagerty and scene-stealer Joaquin Phoenix; the latter paranoid that Penn's Cooper wants to snake his overly flirtatious white trash girl while, ironic for Phoenix's presence alone, several Johnny Cash songs blare on the jukebox (he was nominated as Cash in WALK THE LINE a few years later)...

in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
This scene, a fairly enjoyable ten minute break, turns U-TURN into a dark comedy with an "everything goes wrong to the main character" AFTER HOURS road movie vibe but without a vehicle and a road that ends where the seemingly impossible murderous task begins. And, so, with no where to go but in circles, lost in hazy twists and turns within a sun-drenched, blinding maze, it's a horrendously pretentious visual experience that harbors a few unintentional laughs, and yet, does manage to drag in, somehow. For as treadmills go, U-TURN moves with a page-turning flow liken to a dilapidated dime-novel occurring dizzyingly on the big screen –  but after the proverbial STONE is bled about an hour in, you may just wish that rudimentary sign read DETOUR instead... But that title's been taken by a real Film Noir.

Southern Comfort with Airplane!
NORMAL RATING: **1/2
CAMP VALUE SCORE: ***
TRIVIA: It was reported that Sean Penn and his director didn't get along too well, which isn't a surprise being that Oliver Stone has been known to clash with actors, even Penn's THE GAME sibling Michael Douglas, who won an Oscar for Stone's (arguably best work) WALL STREET, had problems with the moody, Oscar winning Vietnam vet • The otherwise wonderful GOOD BAD UGLY "Wah Wah Wah" composer Ennio Morricone has actually had a bad review on Cult Film Freak before, mentioned in the review of the edgy yet flawed Oliver Reed flick REVOLVER • Bo Hopkins had a small yet important role in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, the script by Oliver Stone providing his first Golden Statue, making a full circle for the AMERICAN GRAFFITI character-actor, a favorite of this site • It's noted on the often incorrect IMDB trivia section that Billy Bob Thornton added several pounds for this role in particular, but if you go back to his co-starring turn in Carl Franklin's indie (that Billy wrote the screenplay of) ONE FALSE MOVE, also starring Bill Paxton, who was all but set to play the U-TURN lead before dropping out and thus, the original choice, Penn, stepped back in again... So back in those days, Thornton wasn't the anorexic looking fella he has been for over a decade, post Angelina Jolie. Like any cat named Billy Bob, before fame struck big time, he was a hefty good old boy type, and with some weight on, actually looked a little... healthier.
Jennifer Lopez was an actor before a singer; Sean Penn an actor before befriending dictators that don't allow movies
Sean Penn wanders the vulture-drenched heat in Oliver Stone's U-TURN originally titled STRAY DOGS
The best "cougar wink" in cinematic history, Hagerty's waitress is named Flo, a nod to the movie and show about ALICE
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