Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: U Turn (1997)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - Sex. Murder. Betrayal. Everything that makes life worth living.

He's a small time gambler with a backpack full of cash, an overdue debt in Vegas and a broken radiator hose. She's a hot-and-cold vixen caught in the grips of a twisted relationship with her powerful husband. Both of them just want to get out of town. And after you meet the citizens of Superior, Arizona, you'll understand why.

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez, Powers Boothe, Claire Danes, Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight, Julie Hagerty, Bo Hopkins
Box Office: Budget: $19 million. Opening Weekend: $2.73 million (1,230 screens). Gross: $6.633 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround; Spanish & French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; double sided - single layered; rated R; 125 min.; $27.95; street date 3/31/98.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Oliver Stone Collection | Score soundtrack - Ennio Morricone

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/D-

U Turn falls into the category of minor films from Oliver Stone. Of all his films in the Nineties, none stirred up less attention than this 1997 release; it earned only $6 million at the box office and failed to generate much enthusiasm from critics. 1993ís Heaven and Earth also fell through the cracks, but one major difference exists between the movies: H&E deserved a better fate, whereas U Turn did not. A derivative and pointless attempt at a cynical film noir, U Turn stands as possibly Stoneís worst movie.

The story follows a lead character about whom it could be said that without bad luck, heíd have no luck at all. At the start of the movie, Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) crosses the Arizona desert to head toward Las Vegas. There he has to pay off a large debt with a Russian mobster, Mr. Arkady (Valery Nikolaev). Unfortunately, he develops car problems along the way and ends up in the auto shop of nightmarish hick Darrell (Billy Bob Thornton).

After a run-in with the mechanic, things get a little better as Bobby hooks up with sexy local Grace (Jennifer Lopez). Of course, the situation rapidly deteriorates when her husband Jake (Nick Nolte) discovers them in the act. Matters then become more complicated as Jake offers Bobby money to kill his wife. Bobby spends the rest of the film fighting with colorful locals, evading gangsters, and trying to recoup his lost money to pay off his debts; he debates whether to kill someone for the bucks, especially when Grace turns the tables on Jake.

Got all that? It doesnít matter if you donít, because the story line never really goes anywhere. Stone has always had a superiority complex as he clearly finds most people to be morons. He uses the same kind of dopey characterizations in U Turn that also marred 1994ís Natural Born Killers, except the movie itself is even less compelling. Iím not a fan of NBK, but at least it had a point, albeit a superficial one. U Turn, on the other hand, tries its damnedest to be clever and outrageous but only succeeds in spinning its wheels.

All in all, the movie feels like a big waste of talent. Between Penn, Lopez, Nolte, and others like Powers Boothe, Joaquin Phoenix, and Claire Danes, we find a lot of solid actors in tow here, but all seem misutilized. Actually, Penn isnít bad as sad-sack Bobby; at least he gets to display a comedic side that rarely pops up in his roles, and heís allowed to play a more broad character than usual. Lopez also seems appropriately sultry as Grace, the only character who plays things fairly straight.

However, the others are weighted down by absurdly caricatured roles that Iím sure Stone tried to make even more ridiculous; his contempt for these kinds of people appears clear. The movie also is fairly witless despite the scriptís attempts at humor. There are a couple of decent lines - such as a discussion about why Patsy Cline no longer makes any new records - but most of the situations and dialogue feel like cut-rate Tarantino.

Despite all of its funky camerawork and stylization and the gyrations of lots of high-powered talent, U Turn comes across as less than the sum of its parts. The movie tries hard to be clever and intriguing but it fails at all times. U Turn made me look back fondly on Natural Born Killers, and thatís a scary thought.

The DVD:

U Turn appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. As Iíve noted in other reviews, it can be exceedingly difficult to accurately judge the transfer quality of many Oliver Stone movies because of all his unusual stylistic choices. U Turn is another film in that category; while the movie generally looked very good, the apparently-intentional flaws knock the quality down a level.

Sharpness seemed consistently crisp and detailed. Some softness resulted from stylistic choices but most of the movie appeared clear and well-defined. Jagged edges showed no concerns, but some serious moirť effects appeared at times; a few shows displayed strong shimmering in blinds and car grilles.

Print flaws included fair amounts of grain and black grit, though nothing more substantial appeared. I believe that these defects were intentional, though the issue was less clear-cut than in many other Stone films; in a lot of flawed shots, the flaws made less sense stylistically and I wasnít sure of the purpose. Nonetheless, I remain fairly certain that the defects were done intentionally.

Colors varied somewhat but usually stayed bright, bold, and cleanly-saturated. In a reverse of the usual pattern, interiors seemed clearer than outside shots; for example, the shots in Graceís house looked absolutely gorgeous with their warm tones. However, exteriors were murkier, and they often featured an excessively reddish tint. Intentional? Probably, but it was hard to say.

Black levels seemed deep and rich, and shadow detailed looked clear and accurate. Low light situations came across as appropriately heavy but not too thick throughout the movie. As a whole, U Turn presented a very solid image that was marred only by a slew of apparently-intentional defects.

Less problematic was the filmís Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It provided a consistently active and engaging presence. The forward soundstage dominated the proceedings, but not to an extreme. In the front, effects appeared well-localized and they blended together cleanly and accurately. Music showed solid stereo separation, and the score and songs spread nicely to the rear channels. The surrounds mainly featured solid bolstering of the music; in addition, some effects came from the rears, but the focus remained on the music.

Audio quality was excellent. Dialogue always appeared crisp and natural, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and realistic and they showed no distortion; louder sounds packed a nice punch and seemed solid. Music sounded especially good, as the track displayed clear and rich tones. Bass response was deep and rich and the music seemed terrifically reproduced. All in all, the soundtrack worked very well for the material.

Less exciting are the supplements with U Turn. Stone has recorded audio commentaries for the vast majority of his films, but U Turn isnít one of them, which is a shame; itíd be interesting to hear more about this obscure release. As it stands, the DVD includes the movieís theatrical trailer and thatís it. Note that this review examines the version of U Turn featured in the Oliver Stone Collection; the solo release probably includes a booklet with production notes, but I canít state that with certainty.

Although I havenít been wild about many of Oliver Stoneís films, most have at least been provocative and moderately compelling. Thatís not the case for his limp comedic noir, U Turn. This dud misfires at almost all times and comes across like self-parody for the most part. The DVD offers largely good picture and sound but skimps on extras. U Turn should be left only for Oliver Stone completists.

Note: The version of U Turn reviewed here appears in the 10-DVD Oliver Stone Collection package; it cannot be found in the 6-DVD set. However, the film can be purchased on its own in a release from Columbia-Tristar; that DVD and this one differ only in the style of packaging they use. The OSC edition comes in a snapper case that reads ďOliver Stone CollectionĒ at the top.

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