Clay Pigeons

on September 25, 1998 by Jon A. Walz
First-time director David Dobkin has pulled together a highly entertaining thriller that keeps fairly true to the conventions of classic film noir (Otto Preminger's similarly themed "Where the Sidewalk Ends" may have been a reference), and, for the first time since the torrid and brooding "Body Heat," actually brings a clean, new and very funny edge to the weathered genre of crime and sleaze. Clay Birdwell (Joaquin Phoenix) is your average gun-shooting, truck-driving, small-town guy without a future. His affair with his best friend Earl's wife Amanda (played with scorching intensity by Georgina Cates) leads to the sudden death of Earl during the exceptionally directed opening minutes. Accidentally (yes, accidentally) disposing of the body, and suddenly cleared of any responsibility in the eyes of the law, Clay returns home to find Amanda in his bed, ready for her weekly tryst.
   Put off by Amanda's excitement upon hearing that her husband is dead, he tries to break off the relationship--but like any femme fatale worth her bleached-blond locks, she keeps pulling him back in and driving him deeper and deeper into sin. After killing a girl who knew about the affair and dumping her into a lake, Clay runs into the slick, fast-talking cowboy Lance Lester (Vince Vaughn in the role he was born to play). Lance and Clay instantly become fast friends and fishing buddies and share each other's secrets.
   Suddenly a body is found floating in the lake--but not the one Clay dumped. Meanwhile, another girl is reported missing. News reports begin linking the deaths of dozens of women in the state, and all hell breaks loose. Clay is nonplussed, but begins to get nervous after the brutal murder of Amanda and the mysterious disappearance of Lance.
   The first half of "Clay Pigeons" is an outstanding lesson in filmmaking, but the film is undermined by a slow second half featuring an FBI investigation headed by a miscast Jeanne Garofalo. She forces dramatic material into a comedic domain, which is certainly appreciated in concept, but is failed in execution. Nevertheless, superior originality is evidenced here, keeping film noir alive and pulsing. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn, Georgina Cates and Janeane Garofalo. Directed by David Dobkin. Written by Matthew L. Healy. Produced by Ridley Scott and Chris Zarpas. A Gramercy release. Black Comedy/Thriller. Rated R for strong scenes of sexuality, language and violence. Runing time: 104 min.
Tags: David Dobkin, Joaquin Phoenix, Georgina Cates, death, body, sex, conspiracy, suspicion, Vince Vaughn, Janeane Garofalo, prison, Ridley Scott, dark comedy, murder

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