Truth or Consequences, N.M.
1997, R, 107 min. Directed by Kiefer Sutherland. Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Vincent Gallo, Mykelti Williamson, Kevin Pollak, Kim Dickens, Rod Steiger, Martin Sheen.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., May 30, 1997
When Nelson Algren wrote books and screenplays about doomed petty hoods and white-trash dreamers, he was forced by technological limitations of the 1940s to actually spend time with said lowlifes in order to write knowledgeably about them. Today, with Blockbuster Video and Tower Records franchises on every other block, first-time director Sutherland is able to work the genre far more efficiently by poring over Quentin Tarantino videos in alternation with Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen albums. Sutherland's debut feature, though not a wretched failure, is so clearly an exercise in artistic filter-feeding that you may find yourself more amused by spotting elements copped from earlier movies (“Hey! That's the interrogation scene from True Romance with Martin Sheen in the Christopher Walken psycho gangster role!”) than losing yourself in the story at hand. Your inattention will be completely excusable, as the story's mix of bungled drug deals, grisly gunplay, whimsical pop trivia-laden dialogue, and love on the run is as rote as this stuff gets. The most interesting figure is played by Gallo, who has recently lent his brooding style and distinctive visage to films like The Funeral and Palookaville. Here, he plays Raymond, the earnest, good-hearted ringleader of a quartet of hapless thieves pursued by cops and a drug lord they've accidentally crossed. Dickens is also vibrant and convincing as his sensible girlfriend, Addy, with whom he plans to flee to (you guessed it) Mexico. But Sutherland is simply insufferable as nutso muscle man Curtis, a coke-snorting, gun-crazed, shades-wearing-indoors regurgitation of every gangster cliché spawned in the wake of Tarantino and his myriad imitators. Watching his embarrassing performance, I soon felt the urge to cap him myself, firing with two pistoles held rakishly sideways in the now obligatory post-Robert Rodriguez style. As a director, Sutherland does produce a watchable, competently crafted product with a few moments of true pathos and an honest affinity for the timeless -- if overused -- American imagery he invokes. But his dullard characters are so hard to feel any empathy for, and the story is so unconvincing at times (for example, why doesn't the undercover cop who's infiltrated Raymond's gang intervene during any of Curtis' murderous outbursts?) that these modest displays of craftsmanship go for naught. For Tarantino homage done right, with style and a dash of individual flair, pass on this one and rent yourself a copy of Vondie Hall's GRIDLOCK'd instead. And while you're shopping, you might want to grab an extra copy for young master Sutherland.