Make a 'U-Turn' at the theater entrance
October 11, 1997
Web posted at: 7:18 p.m. EDT (2318 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- Back in the good old days, when movies were still
generally considered to be an art form as opposed to an
intricate moneymaking scam, the argument of form vs. content
was sometimes debated.
How much style was too much style? Was flash a viable
alternative to emotional or (gulp!) intellectual substance?
It's a real shame that most folks can only roll their eyes at
these concepts nowadays, but maybe we ought to start speaking
up. Blind acceptance, as far as the movie industry is
concerned, is the same thing as asking for it.
I thought about this when, minutes after seeing Oliver
Stone's new movie, "U-Turn," I noticed an ad in the newspaper
in which a fellow critic trumpeted the film as "genius."
Now, everybody is entitled to their opinion, and critics
(happily) are paid for it, but I'm wondering where this
person bought her dictionary. I looked "genius" up in my
Webster's New World, and it didn't say anything about
"elaborately stupid," which is exactly what "U-Turn" is.
The film (a crime story in the new-and-abused Tarantino
genre) is a collection of footage, the main goal of which is
to tirelessly point out Stone's supposedly mad gift.
Stone takes a wrong turn
I am not an unwavering Stone-hater, but I'm certainly a
I think there's a lot to be said for long stretches of
"Platoon," "Salvador," "Talk Radio," "Born on the Fourth of
July" and "JFK." But even those films contain ludicrous
moments of overstatement and thoroughly unnecessary visual
It worked fine in "JFK" because the story is stone-cold
crazy, but stuff like "Natural Born Killers" and -- the truly
laughable -- "The Doors" (where Stone throws in the
psychedelically painted kitchen sink after having it blessed
by an Indian shaman), is where the man's heart now lies, and
it's starting to look like there's no turning back.
I'll give you a plot synopsis of "U-Turn," but there's really
no need. Telling a story is the last thing on Stone's mind.
They're all crazy, but Sean Penn shines
Sean Penn (just about the only conceivable reason to see the
movie) plays Bobby, a former tennis pro who's on his way to
Las Vegas to pay back some money that he owes a generic bad
guy. The bad guy recently clipped a couple of fingers from
Bobby's right hand due to his inability to pay his debt on
On the road to Vegas, the car's radiator hose bursts, so
Bobby finds himself stranded in the "town" of Superior,
Arizona. There ain't much there, to say the least. That's
okay, though, because the locals are bizarre enough to supply
their own entertainment.
The cast of characters is inspiring in its emotional
There's a hillbilly mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton), who is
crazy. There's a hot-tamale Apache woman (Jennifer Lopez),
who is crazy. There's her jealous, buck-toothed
husband/father (Nick Nolte), who is crazy. There's a blind,
half-Indian beggar (John Voight), who is crazy. There's also
Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Julie Hagerty and Powers
Boothe. Crazy, crazy, crazy -- and relatively sane. Hours
of research must've gone into that last one.
Nolte tries to get Penn to kill Lopez. Penn falls for Lopez.
Lopez tries to get Penn to kill Nolte. Everyone who
approaches Penn winds up punching him in the face. The End.
No taste, no focus, no good sense
From the minute this thing starts, Stone is hyperventilating.
The credit sequence alone is exhausting in its
Start off with Ralph Steadman-like titles that blur and jump
around the screen. Add an animal carcass being nauseatingly
picked apart by vultures. Throw in three different film
stocks. How about some double exposures? Let Penn
continually tune his car stereo so that we get snippets of 10
or 12 different songs (Gee, I wonder which station in the
middle of the Arizona desert is playing Charles Mingus.)
Let Penn run over an animal. Show it splattered all over the
road. Now piece this all together with 100 or so cuts in the
space of roughly three minutes. I remember reading something
that said "JFK" should get an award for Most Editing. Well,
"U-Turn" should be honored for having the most everything,
except, of course, taste, focus and good sense. Considering
the pace, you'd think it was directed by a rattled,
Heavy on overkill
Don't get the impression that this technique is used only in
the opening credits. Oh, no-no-no. Stone lays it on
practically nonstop for the next two hours.
Nolte, in particular, gets several gratuitous near-scientific
close-ups of his epidermis. Here we are trying to listen to
a plot to kill a man's wife, and suddenly the movie turns
into "Journey into the Secret World of Nick Nolte's Pores."
I pray to God that Stone doesn't get his hands on one of
those cameras that doctors stick down people's throats. He's
sure to be riveted by Kevin Costner's mucus. Oh, yeah! I
should also mention Ennio Morricone's mind-boggling score,
which sounds like a symphonic re-imagining of the theme from
I don't know exactly what's going on here, but let's put it
this way: If caffeine is responsible, Maxwell House should
send Stone to a clinic.
"U-Turn" is violent, bloody and features bad language, an
open-air sex scene and vultures pulling entrails out of fresh
roadkill. Rated R. 125 minutes.
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