on October 03, 1997 by Ed Scheid
   In his latest film, Oliver Stone takes a "U-Turn" from his controversial histories of "Nixon" and "JFK" to the suspense of film noir. As vultures fly overhead, Bobby (Sean Penn) is driving through the Arizona desert to pay off a gambling debt in Las Vegas when his car breaks down and he is forced to stop in a rundown desert town. He's agitated because the gangsters to whom he owes the money have already disfigured his hand and are threatening more violence if they are not paid on time. In the seemingly quiet town, Bobby unexpectedly loses his money and becomes enmeshed in manipulation, murder and violence as his departure is repeatedly delayed.
   The entire cast give vivid performances, especially Billy Bob Thornton ("Sling Blade") as a seedy and devious mechanic who threatens not to repair Bobby's car without suitable payment. Penn effectively conveys Bobby's increasing desperation, while Jennifer Lopez ("Selena") does fine work as Grace, a sultry femme fatale with a much older, wealthy husband (Nick Nolte). Both husband and wife offer to pay Bobby to kill the other. Even as he becomes attracted to Grace, Bobby is so anxious to get out of town that he might be forced to consider to take up one of the offers to pay for his damaged car. Bobby is regularly beaten up by a young bully ("Inventing the Abbotts'" Joaquin Phoenix) whose flirtatious girlfriend ("William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet's" Claire Danes) sees Bobby as her way to get out of town. Powers Boothe ("Sudden Death") portrays a sheriff unable to keep his town in control.
   Even small parts are colorful, including Jon Voight as a blind Indian and Julie Hagerty as a "waitress named Flo." The script is based on screenwriter John Ridley's book "Stray Dogs," but what propels the familiar plot (reminiscent of "Red Rock West") is Stone's trademark intensity. As in previous efforts like "Natural Born Killers," Stone combines different types of film stock, often giving "U-Turn" a gritty look with heightened colors and blazing sunlight; the look of the film and the expressionistic camera angles reflect the raw passions of the characters. "U-Turn" is fast-paced throughout, with unexpected bursts of twisted humor among the bloody closeups of beatings, shootings and mutilation.    Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe and Billy Bob Thornton. Directed by Oliver Stone. Written by John Ridley. Produced by Dan Halsted and Clayton Townsend. A TriStar release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence, sexuality and language. Running time: 123 min. Screened at Telluride.
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