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U Turn

Here’s something different in an Oliver Stone film: laughs. Bitter, bruising laughs, yes, but it’s humor, not politics, driving the plot. The film was adapted by John Ridley from his novel Stray Dogs, but this is Stone’s view of humans as greedy, lustful, natural-born killers.

Sean Penn is wicket fun as Bobby Cooper, a stranger who rides his Mustang — the car, not the horse — into the desert town of Superior, Ariz. Not on purpose — his radiator hose is busted. Bobby needs to get to Vegas to pay off the Russian gamblers who have already chopped off two of his fingers as a down payment.

Enter the usual suspects: Darrell, a nut-job mechanic, hilariously dead-panned by Billy Bob Thornton; Grace (Jennifer Lopez), the babe who takes Bobby home for a quickie; and Jake (Nick Nolte), Grace’s husband, who cold-cocks Bobby and then offers him a deal to kill Grace. Others include a crooked sheriff (Powers Boothe), a cagey blind man (Jon Voight), and a teen nympho (Claire Danes) and her shortfused lover boy (Joaquin Phoenix).

Ridley’s dialogue crackles nicely until Stone shifts into overdrive. Some directors, such as John Dahl (Red Rock West), heighten brutality by showing you less. Not Stone, who is congenitally in your face. We see an old lady blow away a thief with a shotgun, a father fuck his daughter doggie style and a blood-dripping ax murder. For sex, we watch Bobby jerk off behind a tree after Grace makes him pull out before his orgasm. Stoneisn’t one for the sweet mysteries of life. “Is everybody in this town on drugs?” asks Bobby, who comes to believe that all the characters are conspiring against him. Hmm. Maybe U-Turn isn’t such a different Stone film after all.

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