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Pigeon - Holed

Clay Pigeons flutters with good performances, but fails to break free of standard indie mold

I'd somehow managed to avoid every single commercial and preview of coming attraction for <I>Clay Pigeons</I> prior to viewing the film itself. The tiny bit of information about <I>Clay Pigeons</I> I did possess eliminated any breath of hesitation when I was presented with the opportunity to see it--the star power of Vince Vaughn and Joaquin Phoenix, Yum One and Yum Two, was more than enough to get me to the theater on time. I have now seen the <I>Clay Pigeons</I> television commercial (in case there are many, I am referring to the one that ends with Vaughn and Phoenix in what appears to be some sort of showdown, Phoenix glaring, clench-jawed, and claiming that the two, Lester Long and Clay Bidwell [Vaughn and Phoenix] are not friends, and Vaughn responding affably "Well, sure we are...fishin' buddy!"), and I thought it made the movie look quite like a younger, less grimy <I>U-Turn</I>.

Therein lies one of this movie's problems: it asks to be related to a number of the recent (and not-so-recent) filmic releases in the ever-popular dark, evil, edgy and witty genre (in this case, plot-wise, some poorly explained deaths in a Montana hick town lead to an FBI investigation). Not just <I>U-Turn</I> but <I>Fargo</I>, <I>Scream</I>, <I>Silence of the Lambs</I> and <I>The Hitcher</I> came to my mind over the course of the film. Not that any movie defies comparison; and, if your female cop character is going to remind the audience of anyone, why not aim high and give her a Marge Gunderson appeal (no, Janeane Garofalo does not do a Minnesota accent). But <I>Clay Pigeons</I> lacks a sense of extremity that the other movies succeeded in creating--it holds back just enough when it comes to juicy elements like violence, sex, suspense, and sarcasm to leave you feeling a bit let down.

Luckily, the disappointment is countered by plenty of little cinematic treasures. The soundtrack, for ex.ple, thanks to John Lurie's amazing musical acumen, is outstanding. And the acting: the four main characters are beautifully realized. Vince Vaughn, good in Swingers, is great in <I>Clay Pigeons</I> as the creepily appealing Lester, managing, somehow, to turn heavily fringed denim shirts and tight jeans into inoffensive articles of clothing. A disheveled but steely Joaquin Phoenix does a banner job playing the unflappable Clay, and the handsome duo stylishly develop the interesting on-screen friendship between Lester and Clay.

The ladies, Janeane Garofalo and Georgina Cates, are similarly fun to watch. Garofalo does what she does best and plays the acerbic, self-deprecating but not self-pitying woman with a razor wit, now in blue (and vastly improved over her policework in <I>CopLand</I>). Cates, last seen in <I>An Awfully Big Adventure</I>, is Amanda, seductively bad to the bone in a deliciously pared-down wardrobe.

On balance, I do think this is a good movie and I do hope people go see it. And I hope, as well, that those smokers who go see it have bought a fresh pack before the movie; the nonstop smoking--and a good deal of it sexy and in slow motion--that goes on in this movie leads to a veritable race for the sidewalk after the closing credits rolled, lighters and cigarettes in hand by the midpoint of the lobby.

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Clay Pigeons
rated R
104 minutes

Joaquin Phoenix
Vince Vaughn
Janeane Garofalo
Georgina Cates
Scott Wilson

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