While on the road to who knows where, Bobby (Sean Penn) has a bit of car trouble and has to pull over into the nearest gas-station/mechanic he can find. Of course, this leads him right into the lovely, yet wacky little town of Superior, Arizona, where he’s told that his car will have to stay around for a few more days so that it can get inspected and get all of the right parts it needs to continue to run. Bobby’s not happy about this, but he can’t do much about it, so he decides to set up shop in town for a short while, and in doing so, attracts a whole lot of unwanted and crazy attention from the local folks who clearly seem to be pretty interested in what a city boy like Bobby’s doing around their parts. One person in particular is the sexual and dangerous Grace (Jennifer Lopez), who decides that she wants to run away with Bobby and start out a new life for her. The only issue is that her husband (Nick Nolte), controls almost everything that she does and will not let her out of his sights, regardless of who stands in his way.
U-Turn is the perfect movie for someone like Oliver Stone to direct right after making something as loud, bombastic and overstuffed like Nixon. Because with U-Turn, you can tell that Stone’s getting back down to his roots, catching his breath, and enjoying this sick, dark and twisted world that he seemed to love and be so fascinated with in Natural Born Killers. And sure, while U-Turn is no way in the same league as that near-masterpiece, it’s still a fun little piece of noir-trash that reminds us what can be done when you have some good material, with a director who knows how to handle it all so well.
Of course, Stone has been better and worse before, but still U-Turn shows us that, once again, Stone knows a thing or two about these dark, gritty and messed-up tales about small people, in small towns, doing some pretty cruel and evil things to one another. Stone of course makes this little town of Superior all the more zany and crazy than we’d ever expect right away, but it works in the movie’s favor; every character we run into and get a glimpse of, despite seeming like over-the-top cartoons, still have this smallest sense of danger in their bones that makes it feel like they could step into the story at any second and cause all sorts of damage. It’s what most thrillers in the same vein strive for, but because Stone has a certain eye for these kinds of movies, it works a whole lot more.
Then again, it is a very disgusting movie that, at times, sure, can test our patience for what we’re capable of seeing and accepting for an upwards of two hours or so.
That said, Stone is having fun here and honestly, that can be sort of rare. There’s this small glimmer of a message about Native American tribes and the fact that they were kicked off of their land, but the movie doesn’t make it a top-priority to get on any sort of soapbox and preach to the audience – it’s rare for an Oliver Stone movie to do that, but it’s a welcome change-of-pace because it helps not take away from the cast and twisty, turny plot, and also allow for us to enjoy the movie a whole lot more, all its shortcomings with plot aside.
Sean Penn is a nice addition to the world of Oliver Stone and even though it’s not a more spirited and crazy performance like we’re so used to seeing from him, as Bobby, it almost feel like he didn’t have to be. In a way, he’s sort of the cool, calm and collected one in the middle of a group full of nuts, wacko’s and fools, which suits Penn a whole lot, even if it is also a whole bunch of fun to see him freak-out every so often. Same goes for Lopez, who is playing the typical femme fatale we see in these sorts of flicks and does a solid job playing up that sexy, vivaciousness of her, making us wonder if we can, or can’t, trust her.
But then, there’s the rest of the ensemble who seem to be a little more ramped-up than Lopez and Penn, which is perfectly fine because it suits them all so well.
Powers Boothe and his eyes steal every scene he’s in, because of how scary he is; Jon Voight has a few heartfelt moments in the middle of a wacky and wild movie; Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes seem as if they walked off of the set of a sitcom as two young lovers who constantly keep on running into Bobby; Billy Bob Thornton seems spirited and awake as the town mechanic who seems to be enjoying his chances of ripping Bobby off every chance he gets; and yes, Nick Nolte is as dastardly as can be, playing Grace’s husband, snarling and howling every line that comes out of his mouth. But you know what? It works. We’re supposed to be repulsed by this guy and Nolte is perfect at delivering it all.
If only he and Stone worked together more.
Consensus: As wild and as crazy as Stone has been, U-Turn also shows off his most vile and inhumane piece that is definitely not his smartest movie, but still a bunch of fun, if in the right mood for it.
7.5 / 10