A young punk drifter heading to Vegas to pay off his gambling debt before the Russian mafia kills him, is forced to stop in a Arizona town where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong for him
"You think bad, then bad is what you get."
It's hard to know where to begin this review for Oliver Stone's 'U Turn.' It isn't one of his more controversial films like 'Nixon' and it isn't one of his big scale epics like 'Alexander'. It's violent, but its not ultra violent like 'Natural Born Killers.' 'U Turn' is that odd duck that came out at a time when Oliver Stone admits he was in a dark place and this film's bleak outlook certainly falls in line with that notion. For me, 'U Turn' stands as the first Oliver Stone movie I saw in theaters. At 15 I looked 17 so it became increasingly easier for me to get into R rated movies without flashing an ID. I'd recently seen 'JFK,' 'Platoon,' and 'Born on the 4th of July,' so I thought I was going to experience something along those lines. To say I was confused was a bit of an understatement, but I was captivated by this movie's weirdness and still am to this day.
'U Turn' follows Bobby Cooper, Sean Penn, a guy who physically wears his gambling troubles on his left hand. Minus two fingers, Bobby is driving through Arizona to Las Vegas in order to pay off his sizable gambling debt to a group of Russian gangsters. Driving through the desert in his pristine vintage 1964 Ford Mustang when a busted radiator hose waylays Bobby in Superior, a small middle of nowhere town that is overflowing with eccentrics. One local stands out above all the others, Grace, played by Jennifer Lopez. Wearing a flowing orange dress carrying boxes of drapes, Grace is inundated by Bobby's charm and sly advancements when he offers to take her heavy load off her hands.
The sexual tension is thick as molasses as Grace offers Bobby a drink and a shower in exchange for help bringing the boxes into the house. Just when things are about to get real hot and very heavy between the two, Grace's husband Jake, Nick Nolte, bursts into the room giving Bobby a bloody nose in the process. With Bobby's luck going down the tubes, he figures there's no time like the present to clear out of Dodge. On his way back to town, Jake picks the man up offering an apologetic ride into town. After a little chitchat between the two, they find they're on common ground with their mutual distrust of women. Innocent banter turns dark when Jake offers Bobby a share of a $50,000 insurance policy if Bobby were to rid him of Grace once and for all. Bobby shrugs off the man's offer as whimsy considering he'd just caught his wife making time with another man. Bobby doesn't need cash anymore, he's carrying everything he owes the Russians in an innocuous duffle bag.
While buying something cool to drink, Bobby's entire $30,000 dollar fortune is destroyed during a robbery gone wrong. Now with no other choice, Bobby has to take Jake up on his offer to kill Grace and split the cash. Only the scheme doesn't work according to plan as Grace makes an attractive counteroffer. Bobby is pulled in every direction as plans are formed and spiral out of control just as quickly with deadly results.
'U Turn' is an odd movie. As Oliver Stone has frequently admitted in various interviews, it isn't just a thriller, it isn't just a comedy, it's an odd combination of all genres. In many ways the movie works but in many ways it doesn't. In spite of its colorful photography and scenic desert beauty, this is an incredibly bleak movie at times, one without a genuine hero that you can hang your hat on. Bobby is a scumbag loser through and through. With two fingers reduced to bleeding bandaged stubs, you'd think the guy would know enough to keep his eyes focused on the drink in front of him and not on a random woman that catches all kinds of attention. Instead we watch Bobby grab a shovel and dig a hole eight feet long and six feet deep.
Way back in 1997 I remember leaving the theater not really liking this movie. It was just too strange and I wasn't into abstract cinema at that point. Today, it's still weird, but I get a kick out of it. I'm intermittently frustrated and thoroughly entertained by it. I've probably made it all the way through this movie five or six times now, and each time I watch it I have a different reaction. Sometimes I'm taken in by the seedy noir thriller elements, other times I'm laughing my head off at all of the great characters played by people like Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight, and Joaquin Phoenix. Other times I'm just put off by it entirely. Over the years 'U Turn' has grown a bit of a following; I knew a bunch of guys in school that loved this movie and I had to read several essays about its relevancy in today's modern cinematic landscape. I've never quite been able to fully recommend this movie, but I can't entirely tell people to avoid it either. I guess that's why in the end this movie is so good. It keeps you thinking about it, trying to figure it out and come to some kind of an understanding. Whenever anyone asks if I've seen this film and they ask if its any good, I simply say they should give it a shot, and that's my advice to this day.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'U Turn' makes its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time on a BD50 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens to a main menu that replicates the same cover art work. In the liner notes is a nice essay about the movie from Julie Kirgo.
How the heck am I going to score this one? 'U Turn' was shot almost entirely on over exposed reversal film stock to generate a hyper stylized look. Because there is no negative to process, what you shoot is what you get on film and that usually involves over saturated primaries and deep inky blacks. In the case of this movie, Oliver Stone and his crew purposely shot this film with heightened and exaggerated colors in mind so the image is all over the map here. With that, there really isn't a clear way to grade flesh tones since in one moment people can look pale iridescent white and in the next they can look bright sun-burnt pink - as intended. The print is in fine shape, to my eyes there was little if any damage visable on screen. Where 'U Turn' gets bright marks across the board is in its spectacular detail levels. Every hair on each character's head, every tiny rock in the dirt is on display here and it is beautiful. Film grain is intact throughout without any sign of DNR or smoothing. Black levels are also nice and inky considering the sensitive film stock used for most of the shoot, it offers a lot of dimensional pop alongside the wild colors.
'U Turn' also gains some extra marks for a fine English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Accompanying the wild visual style is an equally creative sound design that gets plenty of room to breath through the channels. Part of the fun of this movie is the unexpected and out of place sound effects that can pop up in random places in the mix. Dialogue, sound effects, and music enjoy plenty of separation creating a nice sense of atmosphere and presence. Foot steps on gravel in particular get a nice amount of echo to live around the scene. Even for a noisy movie, you never have to struggle to hear what people are saying, unless of course it's by intention that you don't clearly hear things. One great area for this mix is how it lets Ennio Morricone's wild score shine. Morricone has always had a knack for using strange sounds to fill out his scores and that ability is certainly on display here. For a strange movie, this is a fantastic audio track that really helps the movie come to life.
Audio Commentary: Director Oliver Stone rides solo offering a lot of insight into this particular film. Nearly twenty years removed from its release, it's interesting to hear his thoughts and views of it in retrospect. There are some parts that drag as Stone simply explains what's happening on screen, but it's still an interesting track.
Audio Commentary: Mike Medavoy and Nick Redman banter back and forth about the film to some degree but this track primarily focuses on Medavoy's history as a producer and the films he's made. If you're after insight about the production, stick with Stone's track. This one isn't bad, it's just not as focused on the film at hand.
Original Theatrical trailer: (SD 2:34) It's odd that this trailer isn't formatted for 16:9, but otherwise it gives a nice idea of what to expect in this one.
'U Turn' is a tough movie to recommend for numerous reasons, many of which I detailed about in my summation. It is one odd little movie if there ever was. It probably fits closer to 'Natural Born Killers' than any other film in Oliver Stone's history, but even then it stands apart. It's hard to peg the movie's genre and even then it's not entirely funny or entirely thrilling. If you're a die hard fan who was come to embrace the movie over the years, this is the Blu-ray you've been waiting for. The picture is beautiful, the audio crackles, and the commentary tracks are worthwhile listens. If you're new to the film, I strongly suggest renting the DVD first to find out if you're a fan or not. I'm calling this Blu-ray recommended in part because I'm always amused by this movie whenever I see it, but also because of the previously mentioned audio video qualities.