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U Turn: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

U Turn (1997) movie poster U Turn

Theatrical Release: October 3, 1997 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Oliver Stone / Writer: John Ridley (screenplay and book Stray Dogs)

Cast: Sean Penn (Bobby Cooper), Nick Nolte (Jake McKenna), Jennifer Lopez (Grace McKenna), Powers Boothe (Sheriff Virgil Potter), Claire Danes (Jenny), Joaquin Phoenix (Toby N. Tucker), Billy Bob Thornton (Darrell), Jon Voight (Blind Man), Abraham Benrubi (Biker #1), Julie Hagerty (Flo), Bo Hopkins (Ed), Valeriy Nikolaev (Mr. Arkady), Aida Linares (Jamilla), Ilia Volok (Sergi), Laurie Metcalf (Bus Station Clerk), Liv Tyler (Girl in Bus Station)

Buy U Turn on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

The combination of good movies and real, serious subject matter turned Oliver Stone into a prestige filmmaker.

But the director has never been in it strictly for the prestige. Even at the height of his recognition, between 1986 Best Picture winner Platoon and 1995 Best Actor nominee Nixon, Stone wasn't limiting himself to films that would feature at the Academy Awards. Heck, even if they were just intended to get his foot in the door, the first two films he ever helmed were horror B-movies.

Most of the two dozen films Stone has since directed have generated some mix of controversy, commendation, and conversation. U Turn (1997), Stone's thirteenth feature as director, has inspired less of that than most of his canon. The first film penned by Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley, adapting his concurrently-published debut novel Stray Dogs, U Turn premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August of 1997. It reached theaters a couple of months later, drawing mixed reviews from critics. Its time on the big screen was brief and the $6.7 million it grossed puts it among the least-seen of Stone's films.

The film follows Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) into a little desert hellhole called Superior, Arizona. A drifter with a variety of trades and vices, Bobby stops in Superior only because the radiator hose of his "1964" red Mustang convertible breaks. He brings the car to Harlin's Garage, a remote establishment owned by a filthy mechanic named Darrell (Billy Bob Thornton), who expects to fix the car in a few hours.

In "U Turn", former tennis pro Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) has his recently scaled-back hands full with fortune teller Grace McKenna (Jennifer Lopez).

Bobby gets a lift into town and soon has his eye caught by Grace (Jennifer Lopez), an attractive young fortune teller who lets him shower and freshen up at her house. Though Bobby would like to do much more, he has barely gotten a couple of kisses in on Grace when he is discovered by her husband, realtor Jake McKenna (Nick Nolte). The jealous type, Jake socks Bobby on the nose. The two make up enough for Jake to offer Bobby part of the $50,000 life insurance policy he has on his wife in exchange for killing her.

Bobby is not the murdering type, but he's in trouble, having recently lost two fingers on the shears of Russian loan sharks he still owes money. Caught in the crossfire of an armed robbery at a dinky grocery store, Bobby loses everything he has and was planning to pay back. Suddenly, he can't even afford the $150 $200 Darrell charges him for parts and labor.

Trying to keep a low profile with bad guys on his trail, but standing three dollars shy of even a bus ticket out of town, Bobby considers that Hitchcockian murder plot in between encounters with other locals, including a blind, half-American Indian Vietnam vet beggar (Jon Voight), a love-struck teenager (Claire Danes) who doesn't know why Patsy Cline doesn't record any more songs, and her short-fused boyfriend Toby N. Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix), whose explosive initials are shaved into the back of his head.

Fresh off his Sling Blade screenwriting Oscar, Billy Bob Thornton is unrecognizable as the filthy mechanic Darrell. Jon Voight also defies recognition as a blind Native American Vietnam War veteran.

U Turn begins quite promisingly as it immerses you in its simmering setting. You can practically feel the heat in this land of scorpions, vultures, and rattlesnakes.
This Southwest small town is more Hell than Purgatory for Bobby, though he maintains hope of escaping it alive. The flavorful presentation befits the flashy signature style that Stone had been developing on JFK and Natural Born Killers. On their final collaboration, Stone and his then-regular cinematographer Robert Richardson (who has since repeatedly teamed with Scorsese and Tarantino) use raw, handheld camerawork and many cuts. Early on, the compositions of Ennio Morricone resemble a Danny Elfman score on a Tim Burton movie, which works, since this kind of feels like a warped, delirious fantasy with its cast of oddballs. There is a timelessness and surrealness to the world depicted, which though set in the present-day does little to date itself nearly twenty years later.

Unfortunately, the trippy goodwill that is earned over the first 75 or so minutes is not sustained. U Turn goes downhill quickly in its second hour, which piles on twists and turns to the diminishment of meaning. The film valiantly tries to sort out the mess its tangled plots create, but chances are you've already stopped caring by the time its cliffside climax keeps tinkering with allegiances and toying with characters' fates.

Though Stone characteristically gets good performances from his cast, all of them have other work to be prouder of from the same era. Even Lopez, whose acting credibility had yet to be undermined by her music career and general celebrity, would next make Steven Soderbergh's far superior crime thriller Out of Sight adapted from Elmore Leonard.

Writer Ridley, whose credits at the time consisted of "Martin", "Fresh Prince", and "John Larroquette Show" episodes, did enjoy a bit of a career takeoff with this, though he would soon return to television as a dramatist prior to his recent glory. Stone would rebound commercially (but not critically) on 1999's Any Given Sunday, but his career has been in different states of decline and hiatus ever since. There's been a lot of talk about Snowden, his film about CIA agent/leaker Edward Snowden scheduled to open Christmas 2015, but there was also a lot of talk in advance of World Trade Center, W., and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, three fairly mediocre movies that were soon forgotten.

A TriStar theatrical release, U Turn recently made its Blu-ray debut in a 3,000-unit disc from Twilight Time.

U Turn: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Marketplace Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.0 DTS-HD MA (Music and Effects Track)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Previously released on Sony DVD (March 31, 1998)

VIDEO and AUDIO

U Turn is slightly grainy and washed out throughout, presumably by design, as Stone favored a similar look on the often black and white Natural Born Killers and mentions alternating film stocks here in the commentary. The Blu-ray's 1.85:1 transfer does boast a pleasing amount of detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is consistently strong, with volume levels remaining even and elements mixing well.

Oliver Stone introduces you to his film in this new HD short. The title logo for "U Turn" (no hyphen) appears at the end of its original 1997 theatrical trailer.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Released by Sony in the format's infancy, U Turn did not get any bonus features on DVD.
Fortunately, Twilight Time does not allow movies to go gentle into that good night. This is one of almost one hundred catalog films neglected by their studios that will reach Blu-ray this year with love and care from the boutique label that is soon becoming the non-classics Criterion.

First up are three alternate soundtracks with which to watch U Turn: a new audio commentary by director Oliver Stone, a new audio commentary by Twilight Time founder/film historian Nick Redman and Phoenix Pictures CEO Mike Medavoy (a producer/production executive on this), and an isolated score track enabling you to appreciate Morricone's compositions (and licensed songs, like Peggy Lee's "It's a Good Day" and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire") in 5.0 DTS-HD MA without dialogue over them.

I listened to Stone's commentary and found it to have value. No stranger to the solo commentary, the director has plenty to say about the film and much of it is interesting. Some highlights include reflections on clashing with Ennio Morricone who was insulted at being instructed to compose cartoon music and how Bill Paxton dropped out of the lead role requiring first choice Sean Penn to come back onboard. Stone also touches upon technical matters, the film's commercial failure, disapproving critical marks (some of which he reads from), and differences/similarities between this and his other films.

In addition, we find two short video bonuses. A new introduction by Stone (2:47, HD) calls this "film noir"/"film soleil" his darkest film. There is also U Turn's original theatrical trailer (2:34, SD), which is letterboxed within the 4:3 frame.

The basic, static main menu adapts the cover art, which reprises the theatrical poster artwork in lieu of the leg-spreading J-Lo Sony used on the DVD's cover. The menu characteristically includes a gallery of the entire Twilight Time catalogue, divided by year. The disc resumes unfinished playback of the film.

The final extra is found inside the standard blue keepcase (which Twilight Time has departed from on its next batch): an 8-page booklet featuring another thoughtful essay by the incomparable Julie Kirgo, which celebrates this rough black comedy in knowing detail.

Bobby (Sean Penn) can only laugh in response to the ditzy Jenny (Claire Danes) and her explosive boyfriend Toby N. Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like many Oliver Stone movies, U Turn boasts the artistic vision of a master filmmaker and the ideas of a thoughtful storyteller. Unfortunately, the arresting atmosphere at the beginning of this strange, dark thriller gives way to twists and turns that aren't enough to win you back.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray is everything you hope it might be, with two new commentaries, an original trailer, an on-camera Stone intro, and an essay booklet complementing a fine feature presentation. I'd recommend the disc if you consider the film to be more than a one-time viewing, which I do not.

Buy U Turn on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Oliver Stone: Salvador Any Given Sunday Platoon Nixon Wall Street
1990s on Blu-ray: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Dead Man The Usual Suspects The Grifters
Sean Penn: The Game The Thin Red Line The Tree of Life Gangster Squad | Nick Nolte: Tropic Thunder
Jennifer Lopez: The Back-up Plan Shall We Dance? (2004) An Unfinished Life | Billy Bob Thornton: Armageddon Sling Blade
Jon Voight: Varsity Blues John Grisham's The Rainmaker Enemy of the State Glory Road | Powers Boothe: Sin City: A Dame to Kill for
Written by John Ridley: Jimi: All Is By My Side | American Crime Thrillers: Blood Simple. The Counselor No Country for Old Men

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Reviewed April 21, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1997 TriStar Pictures, Phoenix Pictures, Illusion Entertainment Group, Clyde Is Hungry Films,
and 2015 Twilight Time and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.