U-Turn is a 1997 American neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Oliver Stone and starring Sean Penn, Billy Bob Thornton, Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight, Powers Boothe, Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, and Nick Nolte. It is based on the book Stray Dogs by John Ridley.
Bobby Cooper is a drifter in debt to a violent gangster when his car breaks down in Superior, Arizona. Stranded and broke, he meets Jake and Grace McKenna, a father and daughter who are also a married couple. They separately approach Bobby to kill the other for money.
Desperate and in fear, Bobby approaches Jake about killing Grace. He becomes attracted to Grace and agrees to kill Jake, then he and Grace can be together and use Jake's money for a new start somewhere else.
With Grace's help, Bobby kills Jake, and they leave together with $200,000. As they make their way out of Superior, the Sheriff, with whom Grace has been having an affair, stops them. Grace shoots and kills the sheriff. As they dump the bodies, Grace pushes Bobby over the cliff, severely injuring him. Grace suddenly realizes that Bobby has the car keys.
Grace makes her way down the steep incline where she and Bobby fight, and in his weakened, injured state, Bobby kills Grace. He makes the grueling journey back up the cliff with a broken leg, then starts the car, but the radiator hose bursts, and Bobby is stranded in the heat injured and dying.
- Sean Penn as Bobby Cooper
- Jennifer Lopez as Grace McKenna
- Nick Nolte as Jake McKenna
- Powers Boothe as Sheriff Virgil Potter
- Claire Danes as Jenny
- Joaquin Phoenix as Toby N. Tucker (aka "TNT")
- Jon Voight as Blind Indian
- Billy Bob Thornton as Darrell
- Abraham Benrubi as Biker #1
- Sean Stone as Boy in Grocery Store
- Ilia Volok as Sergei
- Valeri Nikolayev as Mr. Arkady
- Brent Briscoe as Boyd
- Bo Hopkins as Ed
- Julie Hagerty as Flo
- Sheri Foster as Grace's Mother
- Liv Tyler as Girl in Bus Station (Cameo)
- Laurie Metcalf as Bus Station ticket attendant
U Turn was filmed during November 1996–January 1997 on location in Superior, Arizona and other areas of Arizona and California, including the Coachella Valley. It was filmed entirely on Reversal stock, 5239, to give an extra harsh look to the hostile environment.
For the Toby N. Tucker role, Joaquin Phoenix said small-town style gave him the inspiration and the idea for the haircut, which was "TNT" (the character's initials) shaved on the back of his head. "These kids in these small towns, these fads that just roll over them," he told Rough Cut Magazine in October 1998. "Like, five years pass and they still hang on to them. So, I thought it was really great if he shaves his name, he thinks he's really notorious."
Reaction by critics to the film was mixed. Roger Ebert gave the film 1½ stars out of four, deeming it a "repetitive, pointless exercise in genre filmmaking—the kind of film where you distract yourself by making a list of the sources". James Berardinelli rated the film three stars out of four, stating "for those who enjoy movies on the edge, U-Turn offers just the trajectory you might expect." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that it "demonstrates a filmmaker in complete command of his craft and with little control over his impulses". U Turn currently holds a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 51 reviews with the consensus: "U-Turn is a lurid, stylish lark that boasts striking moments but lacks the focus and weight of Oliver Stone's best work."
The film was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Director (which went to Kevin Costner for The Postman) and Worst Supporting Actor (Jon Voight, also for Most Wanted; ultimately, he "lost" to Dennis Rodman for Double Team). It was also included on Siskel and Ebert's "Worst Films of 1997" episode. In the episode, Gene Siskel reflected that "U Turn [had] the same highly stylised violence as Stone's Natural Born Killers, but without that film's intellectual content, U Turn seems like Stone's attempt at a commercial hit – and he failed, miserably.