Saturday, May 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘LaRoy, Texas’ is a Pale Imitation of Better Black Comedies

Director: Shane Atkinson
Writer: Shane Atkinson
Stars: Steve Zahn, John Magaro, Dylan Baker

Synopsis: When Ray discovers that his wife is cheating on him, he decides he’s going to kill himself. His plans suddenly change when a stranger mistakes him for a low-rent hitman.

LaRoy, Texas is a Coen Brothers-inspired black comedy noir. It has all the elements for that particular mix to succeed; a hot and unbothered blonde, a down-on-his-luck reluctant protagonist, a sneaky detective, and a smug villain. But it lacks one of the most important elements of this specific sub-genre, and that is a captivating script. 

The feature starts with a simple premise, a driver picking up a hitchhiker. What could go wrong? With that simplicity on the table, LaRoy, Texas starts with an expected conversation that fails to build up the tension to the ensuing crime. The film soon moves to another world; a bored former beauty queen wife and her loser husband, his emotionally abusive brother, and a murder in between. Both worlds collide and we find ourselves watching as the husband flees the city with the help of a friend.

The hitman shows up in the film, oozing a presence that promises menace but borders on cheesy, overt wickedness. Dylan Baker plays him with an in-your-face performance, not as subtle as I would have preferred, but still enjoyable to watch, although in more than one instance I sensed a Steve Buscemi impact underneath the surface. John Magaro shows a major departure from his Past Lives self, and here he plays a character that is difficult to sympathize with, or at least, he lacks the tools to bring him the proper sympathy. 

The scene stealer, however, is Steve Zahn as Detective Skip. He’s funny and sly. He brings to the role the perfect blend of goofiness and pseudo-confident masculinity. Other actors are somehow forgettable, as the script doesn’t allow particular moments to shine, and the characters’ growth is inhibited by the attempts to tie in different storylines and revolve them around the central anticipated crime.

The film tries so hard to belong to the world that it is displaying. It is more or less a spectacle of these characters and how they navigate a worn-out world. Small-town motels and family dynamics share the spotlight with the main plot, competing for the center stage.

I found The Velvet Saddle Motel the true hero of the story. It’s the place where people cheat, murder, conspire, and attempt suicide. With its pink neon sign and seedy vibes, The Velvet Saddle brings out the best and the worst in our heroes and villains, especially in a world where there’s neither of these simple classifications. Writer-director Shane Atkinson ties an invisible thread between all major and minor plotlines and despite The Velvet Saddle not being that impressive of a Chekhov’s Gun, it carries some weight that adds to the presence of the film location.

This is an overall enjoyable feat, heavily influenced by the Coens and Noah Hawley’s American desert-town-world in Fargo (the series) where the good and the bad seem to blur, creating a large portion of grey that has nothing to do with either. Atkinson doesn’t try to condemn or commend any of the characters. He allows them a breather amidst the insanity and the ridiculous turn of events. 

LaRoy, Texas doesn’t leave audiences hungry but also doesn’t satisfy the senses like other black comedy/noir dramas do. There’s still a lot that could’ve been cut through, a lot that stalled and lingered especially when it comes to dialogue -Atkins’s weakest link- but if anyone is in the mood for a film with a bowl of popcorn and a cold drink.

Grade: C+

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