'Destiny on the Radio' is offbeat cops-and-robbers caper

April 28, 1995|By Philip Wuntch | Philip Wuntch,Dallas Morning News

With a title of "Destiny Turns on the Radio," you don't expect an ordinary movie.

And with "Pulp Fiction"/pop culture maestro Quentin Tarantino playing a mythical character named Johnny Destiny, you don't even expect a halfway normal flick. What you get is a film that's calculated to be offbeat in the same obvious way that some Hollywood movies are prepackaged to be mainstream.

This is the first feature of director Jack Baran, but it has definite Tarantino-ish touches. It's as rooted in '50s pop culture as Mr. Tarantino's pulp flicks are mired in the '70s. But Baran is telling a simple, mythical story, and he shouldn't give his audience too much time to think about it. "Destiny" is fun but forgettable.

Julian Goddard (Dylan McDermott), a bank robber who's escaped from a Nevada prison, heads for Las Vegas to reclaim his girlfriend Lucille (Nancy Travis) and the loot that he thinks his partner Thoreau (James LeGros) has.

Of course, nothing is easy. Lucille, for example, has a new boyfriend, a lowlife casino manager named Tuerto (James Belushi). As for Thoreau, he says the money was stolen under mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, the very clumsy and gullible local police are looking for Julian in every alley.

Appearing at important intervals is Johnny Destiny, who smiles knowingly but noncommittally at each crisis. He engineers the plot's none-too-convincing excursions into fantasy.

"Destiny Turns on the Radio" is nothing if not picturesque. Much of the action takes place at the once-shiny Marilyn Motel, where each room is named after one of Monroe's movies. Naturally, Julian checks into "The Misfits" room.

All the cast members seem to be enjoying themselves. Mr. McDermott performs with the polish of a future star, while Ms. Travis makes the mercurial Lucille a likable and strong presence. Mr. LeGros has lazy-boy charm, while Mr. Belushi has tough-guy edginess.

Mr. Tarantino has proved he knows how to write dialogue, but he still doesn't know how to deliver it. Fortunately, the role basically requires a pair of mischievous eyes and a unique face that seems half clown and half shaman -- a bill Mr. Tarantino easily fills.

"Destiny Turns on the Radio" is a shaggy-dog tale that should have been a short story. But it has isolated, enjoyable moments.

"Destiny Turns on the Radio"

Directed by Jack Baran

Starring James LeGros, Dylan McDermott, Nancy Travis and Quentin Tarantino

Released by Rysher Entertainment

Rated R (language, adult situations, mild violence, nudity)

** 1/2

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