U-Turn

U-Turn is fundamentally a story of endless returns, a tale of a man stuck in a dirty, ugly place, unable to leave. This narrative may be more apt than U-Turn’s filmmaker Oliver Stone may think - in directing what ends up as one of the ugliest and wholly misanthropic films screened since, well, Natural Born Killers, Stone returns to his old stomping grounds, only to find the earth oozing with pestilence. Stone may be the worst kind of filmmaker possible: he’s an ambitious megalomaniac with nothing concrete to say. Here, he revels in the revulsion.

As it stands, U-Turn is one of the oldest nuggets lifted straight out of a Jim Thompson pulp; a standard film noir tale of a man (Bobby Cooper, played by Sean Penn) who pulls into the small town of Superior, Arizona in need of car repairs. Superior is like a white trash version of Wawa, Ontario - once you get stuck there, you can never leave. Cooper finds this out after going through hell with the local red neck mechanic (Billy Bob Thorton), a raven-haired femme fatale (Jennifer Lopez) and the obligatory old sinister fart (Nick Nolte), all who have their own agendas in store for him, with predictably deadly results.

It’s been a long time since we were presented with a cast of characters that were so thoroughly despicable. No single person here is sympathetic or likable - even Penn’s Cooper is unpleasant, and as our eyes into the amoral landscape of Superior, he’s the audience’s only connection to what Stone tries to present. Film noir is inherently an immoral genre, and it’s expected for good and evil to mingle in with the light and shadows, but there’s always at least one route in for audiences. U-Turn lacks anything like this, and ends up feeling more like a cartoon exercise in film techniques than a real movie.

This is probably the biggest problem with U-Turn, and with Stone’s direction. The story is slight and hackneyed, and his stylistic ministrations seem rigged to divert the audience’s attention away from this. Stone has never had any deep talent - his films have always suffered from an excess of bombast and pretension, but at least his pre-90’s films have had some sense of visual flow. Here, as in Natural Born Killers and JFK, his use of images is illogical and often obnoxious; it feels like he’s loaded a scattergun with film stock and fired it at the screen with no thought to anything except provoking a response. He’s like a kid with a killing jar at show and tell, trying to see how far he can push audiences before they turn away.

Stone’s lenses capture everything in a repulsive light - even the beautiful Jennifer Lopez looks blemished and sickly here, as if Stone is incapable of filming anything without twisting it into something ugly. U-Turn is just like Natural Born Killers; it’s void of anything resembling thoughtful filmmaking, designed to incite audiences with visual deformity. People responded to NBK because of the way it forced itself on them - they responded to the way the film pummeled their senses, not because it was good or entertaining. If this is what audiences want when they watch a Stone film, then he’s succeeded beyond his limited capabilities; he’s made monsters out of them, too.


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