Got to hand it to my man Quentin. He's rolling the big dicewriting, directing, producing, acting. Cannes awards, Oscar nominations, plaudits from every film critic the world over. He's got Tarantino wannabes sprouting east to west, sporting wraparound shades and post-modern, deconstructionist tudes. And all this from only two movies. Love this guy!
But what's with these TV commercials? Suddenly, Quentin is appearing in a series of quick flashes, stuck in the dull glow of the small screen, snapping his fingers and flashing his patented crooked grin. Is it truehe's starring in a movie? And what the hell does the title mean: Destiny Turns on the Radio. Turns on the radio?! What kind of wuss title is that?
Could it be that Quentin Tarantino is getting soft?
Soft in the head, maybe. Ever since Quentin mania was unleashed in the media last year, he's become a star in his own rightwhich is only fitting, considering his accomplishments. But this acting thing no. Any poor soul who witnessed his guest-star role on All-American Girl as Margaret Cho's boyfriend knows the obvious: Quentin's thespian aspirations are best fulfilled in small doses (by, say, cameos in his own movies). But this didn't stop him from taking a marquee role in this extremely stupid movieor prevent the producers of said stupid movie from hyping him as the "star." Quentin: Stop before it's too late!
The film itself is a pretty dreadful concoction of would-be hipster cool. Youve got your campy Las Vegas setting. Youve got your off-beat characters. Youve got your mysterious subtext. The only thing missing is a genuine sense of vision. It's an empty-headed piece of set dressing, with all the elements of a funky indie flick but no sense of personal expression.
When, say, Jim Jarmusch throws together wiggy scenes with strange characters, you feel like you're actually going somewhere new. Destiny Turns on the Radio, however, only takes you a few spins around the block. Let me give you this unusually detailed plot synopsis so that you might suffer only a fraction of the pain I experienced in the theater.
Dylan McDermott (In the Line of Fire) stars as Julian Goddard, an escaped convict who awakes in the Nevada desert right smack in the path of an oncoming car. And hey, it's Quentin Tarantino rolling up in a 69 Plymouth Roadrunner. Proclaiming himself "Johnny Destiny," Tarantino offers Goddard a ride to Vegas, dropping him off at the run-down Marilyn Motel. Goddard meets his erstwhile partner in crime, Harry Thoreau (James LeGros) and demands his half of their take from the bank job for which he took the fall three years ago. But wouldn't you know it, the money's gone. How?
In an agonizing flashback, we get to see Tarantino rise up from the motel's sparkling yellow swimming pool, naked, stare meaningfully at Thoreau, and then zap him with a lightning bolt. He then takes Thoreau's 69 Roadrunner, with the trunk full of money, and disappears. That's rightyou guessed it! Johnny Destiny is some kind of spirit being who controls the destiny of gamblers or something. How's that for magic realism?
Oh, but that's not all. You see, our hero is also in love with a lounge singer (Nancy Travis) who dumped him on the fateful night he was nabbed by the police. And, yes, he still wants her backbut she's now the girlfriend of one Tuerto (James Belushi), a small-time casino owner. However, she still loves Julianthough she doesn't trust him and she's up for a big audition with a record exec that may be her ticket out of Vegas!
So can our hero get his money back? Will he win the heart of Lucille the lounge singer? Will Tuerto get pissed off enough to whack him? And who's this Johnny Destiny character, anyway?
None of these questions really matter. The only mystery you'll want to solve is: "How soon can I leave the theater?"
Although the cast isn't bad, the principals have absolutely nothing to work with. Julian's only personality trait is that he has a short temper. Nancy Travis, usually endearing, is so unbelievable as a sexy chanteuse that you pray her character won't get the record contract. And James Belushi is James Belushi. The only bit of acting worth praise is David Cross's nebbish show as Lucille's uptight slacker agent.
You get the feeling the screenwriters thought that putting cool-looking characters in cool-looking places would create a cool movie. It doesn't. Maybe they ought to take a few lessons from that hot new director Quentin Tarantino