Drifter Penn is marooned in a small town when his car breaks down and soon finds himself involved in the various plots of the local no-goods.
Having lost all sense of proportion with the over-inflated Nixon, Oliver Stone cuts back his budget and his post-NBK multimedia visuals to deliver a low-key, low-down, blacker-than-black comedy thriller. It's not the best film he's ever made, but certainly the best for a long while.
With more than a passing nod to John Dahl's Red Rock West, Stone's movie finds drifter Penn stuck in the arse-end of nowhere, his broken car in the garage, and two of his fingers seemingly missing.
What starts as a really bad day soon turns considerably worse under the frying temperatures of the noonday sun - deranged car mechanic Thornton won't give Penn his motor back, the local sheriff has his eye out for him, local vixen Lopez is on the tease, and her more-than-slightly possessive husband Nolte is none too chuffed with this new boy in town.
But soon, hubby is recruiting Penn to off the missus while she in turn is asking her newly bedded mate to do the same to hubby - who may well also be daddy (you know how these small towns are). Stone's direction seems generally reinvigorated by the reduced budget, with old Ollie out to prove his indie chops in inventive and often dazzling fashion. Having assembled an impressive cast, he's content to stand back and give them room to play, from the twisted humour of Thornton to the dark soul of Nolte to the luscious longings of Lopez. Penn, meanwhile, is superb - gradually falling apart through the course of the day, a man desperate to get out alive, with one eye on the road ahead and one on the buzzards circling above.
The plot does have obvious antecedents and Stone does betray himself with a few too many celeb cameos (just what is Liv Tyler doing standing in the back of that ticket office?). But for the most part, what you have here is a topnotch filmmaker getting back to basics and really delivering the goods.
A noirish thriller - thankfully less overblown than many of Stone's efforts.