Film

Bad Turn Worse Plays Like a Superior ’90s Indie Crime Drama

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From the opening robbery in a hard-land gas station, Simon Hawkins and Zeke Hawkins’s Bad Turn Worse floors it straight into the past — it plays like one of the best of those chatty, reflexive, standoffs-and-monologues crime indies every young dude in L.A. whipped up after Tarantino hit.

Deep into the third act, one character actually says, “Now you’re bluffing”; another, after announcing a betrayal meant to upend our understanding of what’s been going on, executes a little bow. (That one’s also tasked with proving the film’s un-PC bona fides, saying, “No reason you’d kill someone who exists, right? Just fucking Mexicans!”) After blowing thousands of (stolen) bucks on one dumb casino weekend, three Texas teens find themselves entangled with nowheresville murderers/gangsters/whatevers, led by Mark Pellegrino as a speechifying lowlife always happy to off someone other than the heroes to make a point.

Those heroes, meanwhile, number two dopey, hobbit-y dudes and one long-limbed tomboy who spends the movie fending them off, falling toward both, and outsmarting everyone else. Played by Mackenzie Davis, she’s complex and appealing and far and away the best thing here. (She’s also consistently subjected to threats of sexual violence.) For all its familiarity and rote nastiness, the film’s sharply crafted and quite promising.

True to its meta ilk, Bad Turn Worse includes lots of talk about how stories work — Jim Thompson is quoted — and a climax in which the bad guy compares what he’s doing to the plot twists in Gladiator and Rocky II. But such thoughts about narrative remain no substitute for a surprising and involving one, which screenwriter Dutch Southern never quite nails.