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IN SHORT: Delicious noir.
These are the elements vital to good film noir: a lead character who finds himself in a situation that is way out of his league; a beautiful woman; a coverup of some kind; a mysterious stranger (usually but not always the lead); lots of sex and violence and a one on one face off. Most noir films take place in dusty out of the way towns, or at night in big cities. Clay Pigeons opts for the former, and delivers us a lead character who wouldn't have been in so much trouble if he hadn't been involved in "the coverup" in the first place. It's a downright yummy story.
Long time readers know I love noir, and while Clay Pigeons isn't as gun effects driven as, say, Last Man Standing was, its use of a knife as the killing weapon of choice makes this flick just as creepy as any good thriller. The amazing thing is that there's little actual violence onscreen, and none of it is either gory or gratuitous. There's a sharp edged humor built into the script that rolls dryly off the tongue of co-star Janeane Garafalo ... but I'll get to her soon.
Earl (Gregory Sporleder) and Clay (Joaquin Phoenix) are best buddies. They live in Montana and drive trucks and take target practice at empty beer bottles hanging from trees. They're both sleeping with Earl's wife, Amanda (Georgina Cates), and Earl ain't pleased. So he offs himself and makes it look like Clay's doing -- this is Montana, people, we're not supposed to assume that the local cops are as smart as the ones on TV. Don't niggle on this set-up and you'll have a good time.
Clay, of course, covers up the killing. Amanda couldn't care less. A mysterious stranger named Lester Long (Vince Vaughn) enters the picture and befriends Clay. Every woman Clay knows starts turning up dead, and it's at about this point that the script starts getting real clever with the who and how done it. As the body count mounts, Garafalo shows up as the FBI agent tracking a serial killer who appears to be . . . you can finish that sentence easily.
Joaquin Phoenix, as the out of his league guy panics brilliantly and comes to cope with the situations surprisingly well. Garafalo delivers the comic punch and Vaughn has integrated such an incredibly annoying laugh into his character that you just know he's covering something up.
Clay Pigeons is creepy, it's funny, it's horrifying, it's very satisfying. Fans looking for slice 'n' dice gore won't find it, which is all the more to it's credit to these aged eyes. Recommended.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Clay Pigeons, he would have paid...
As a bonus, the soundtrack is filled with a whole lot of kickass honkytonk c/w tunes by John Lurie (of The Lounge Lizards). It made Cranky happy, too. Imagine that.
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