Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Killer Joe

Title: Killer Joe

NC-17? I know, right? It's as if the MPAA anticipated an outcry over full frontal nudity and someone getting beaten near to death with a can of pumpkin filling.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half delicious fried chicken drumsticks out of five.

Tagline:"Murder never tasted so good."

Better Tagline: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the trailer park."

Brief Plot Synopsis: Redneck dimwits hire crooked cop to kill mother/ex-wife. This goes about as well as you'd expect.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Small-time drug dealer Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is in a dilly of a pickle: down six grand to his supplier because his mom stole and subsequently sold his coke stash. While commiserating with dad Ansel (no longer married to Chris's mom, by the way), they hit upon a plan: hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas detective with a murder-for-hire business on the side, to off Mom for the $50,000 insurance policy, which will go to Chris's sister Dottie (Juno Temple). What's that? They don't have the upfront money Joe demands before he'll do the job? No problem, he'll just take Dottie herself as a retainer.

"Critical" Analysis: What a collection of assholes.

Tracy Watts wrote his play Killer Joe way back in 1991, 17 years before his Pulitzer and Tony-winning August: Osage County, and the earlier effort is certainly...earthier. With the exception of the sinister Joe, everybody is all random bruises, smeared mascara and clothes that you're pretty sure will smell bad no matter how often they're washed. Watts never goes overboard with his contempt, and Temple and Thomas Haden Church (as Ansel) especially make their characters especially memorable. But it's a near thing.

The movie is directed by William Friedkin. [Troy McClure]You may remember him as the director of such films as The French Connection and The Exorcist[/Troy McClure]. At first blush, Killer Joe may seem decidedly un-Friedkinlike, but the guy's attempted comedies before. Just not very successfully (Deal of the Century, anyone?). His steady hand is welcome here, however, as he keeps his stylistic touches to a minimum while capably tamping down the sometimes excitable script.

This is often an uncomfortable movie to watch. Dottie may not be mentally challenged, but there's definitely something off about her (possibly thanks to Mom attempting to smother her as a baby, an act she claims to remember). There's a great deal of matter-of-fact nudity (hey there, Gina Gershon) and a few instances of stark violence. It's a black comedy that goes to just plain black pretty damn quick, as events comes to a head and Joe demands final payment.

It took a while, but I think we can finally start taking Matthew McConaughey seriously as an actor. His earlier attempts at gravitas (see Amistad) seemed to indicate limited range and/or ability, but age and a handful of inspired performances (Bernie, The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike...yes I said MAGIC MIKE) have given him the seriousness that so often eludes the laconic and perma-tanned.

And I swear they lit him to look like Tom Cruise in a couple final scenes. That doesn't hurt the creep factor any.

Killer Joe isn't for everybody (at least six people walked out of the screening I attended), and not all the performances ring true (Emile buddy, loved you in Into the Wild, not so much here), but a little slice of Southern Gothic is just what the back room doctor ordered in this summer of explodey superhero movies. Killer Joe is in theaters today. Don't make the mistake of eating fried chicken before you go, like I did.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar