Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: Bad Turn Worse

Bad Turn Worse
Directed by: Simon Hawkins & Zeke Hawkins.
Written by: Dutch Southern.
Starring: Jeremy Allen White (Bobby), Logan Huffman (B.J.), Mackenzie Davis (Sue), Mark Pellegrino (Giff), William Devane (Big Red), Jon Gries (Sheriff Shep).

If you are making a Texas-set noir, you know you are going too compared to the work of Jim Thompson – the great noir writer, who set much of his work there, among the low level criminals and regular folk who become criminals in an attempt to get out of their dead end lives. Bad Turn Worse, directed by Simon & Zeke Hawkins and written by Dutch Southern, knows they are going to be compared to Thompson – and they don’t try and hide the influence he had on their film. In the film’s first dialogue sequence, Sue (Mackenzie Davis) gives Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) one of Thompson’s books, and tells him to read it. “You’ll like it – it’s about here”, she tells him. The pair of them are in the summer between high school and college – and they cannot wait to get out. Sue is the smartest of the pair – she has outgrown this town a long time ago, and isn’t really trying to hide that anymore. Bobby is not quite as intellectually curious as Sue – but he doesn’t want to stay in town and work in the kind of dead end job that everyone he knows does. Sue’s boyfriend is Bobby’s best friend – BJ (Logan Huffman) – who is a lunk head, but is putting on a brave face knowing that his “best friend and best girl” are about to leave him behind. BJ decides that what the trio really needs is one last blowout before the pair leave him behind – and he has a wad of bills in his pocket that will pay for that weekend in Corpus Christi. Bobby and Sue don’t ask questions about where the money came from – and just go out and help him spend it. We know where BJ got it though – he has stolen it from his and Bobby’s boss, Giff (Mark Pellegrino) – a low level criminal who thinks he’s a little smarter than he really is. But what he lacks in smarts, he makes up for with meanness – returning from their weekend, BJ and Bobby find Giff kicking his Mexican employee who was supposed to guard the money. Even after Bobby – for something his friend did confesses, Giff still shoots the Mexican, who should have guarded his money better. Giff may not be overly smart – but he’s sharp enough to figure out that anything Bobby did, BJ and Sue would also be in on. And instead of killing the trio – he tells them that to make it up to him, all they have to do is rob Giff’s boss – a mobster called Big Red. According to Giff, that will be easy – but of course, nothing goes according to plan.

Bad Turn Worse is by no means a great film – but for its first hour, it is a good modern noir. It is a clever twist to set the movie in the summer between high school and college – which has been the setting for countless teen movies, of course, but never a noir like this (at least to my recollection). What’s remarkable is how easily that oft-documented time suits a noir like this. The three main characters are bored – in different ways – but basically their life is in a holding pattern. Sue knows she is going on to bigger and better things – the types of things she has read about in all of her books. She fancies herself the smartest person around – and to an extent she is, but she isn’t quite as smart as she thinks she is. Bobby is acting the part of a guy excited to leave town – but a scene late in the second act with his family (a quiet one, that happens so quickly, I almost I missed it) suggests that he is hiding more than it seems – and that part of what he is doing is putting on an act to impress Sue, which works, to a certain extent. Neither of them take BJ that seriously – but they should. He isn’t quite as dumb as he seems.

Unfortunately, Bad Turn Worse comes apart in its final act – which has one twist and turn after another, and involves multiple instances of the talking villain featuring them say things like “It was all part of the plan” – and then proceed to explain their plan, only to realize that someone else has double crossed them, and will eventually have to explain what they did. It gets to a point where in all honesty, I just stopped caring, and wanted the film to end.

But the film does work for most of its runtime – and shows real promise from the first time directors and writer. They were smart enough to try not to be overly ambitious their first time out – and basically have constructed a solid noir – with some fine performances. It may not be the most original film of the year – but it’s a fun little noir for most of its runtime.  

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