Destiny Turns On the Radio is the unfortunate title of a small, strange, rather agreeable comic fantasy set in Las Vegas. The title cosmic force, personified by Quentin Tarantino as a flashy hipster with a shit-eating grin, finds Julian (Dylan McDermott), an escaped convict, wandering in the Nevada desert and gives him a lift.
Julian has returned to Vegas in search of his girlfriend, partner and loot, but Destiny's smirk is prophetic. The torch-singer girlfriend (Nancy Travis) is now the squeeze of a high-powered casino owner (James Belushi). The partner (James LeGros) is stuck managing an existentially tacky roadside motel with a Marilyn Monroe theme--each of the rooms is named after one of her movies--and an empty swimmimg pool which apparently doubles as a portal to another dimension. The loot, needless to say, is missing. The rest of the film is a mild, irony-tinged romance, as Julian struggles to win back the scrumptious torch singer, while eluding the cops and Belushi's goons. Destiny intercedes from time to time, generally in Julian's favor. In one of the film's best moments, he steps in front of a police car, it swerves to avoid him and the front tire goes flat, allowing the hero and heroine to slip away. It might have been more clever if all the encounters with Destiny had been played this way--ambiguously interpretable as either supernatural or coincidental.
The debuting director, Jack Baran, has a decent touch for this kind of delicate material, and he's aided enormously by cinematographer James Carter, who presents Vegas as a series of kitschy, gloriously colored postcards. The film's main charms, however, are in the acting. McDermott, who wore suits gorgeously in Miracle on 34th Street last Christmas, also has the right handsome-coyote look for his role here, but he isn't quite magnetic enough. The rest of the actors, however, more than compensate--the dreamy-dish Travis is always beguiling, and Belushi is in a friskier-than-usual mood, even for him. Tarantino is transparently in his glory over the opportunity to stroll through casinos snapping his fingers and making enigmatic remarks, and David Cross is a scream as the nervous, babbling director of Travis' stage show. Good bits are turned in by Richard Edson, Bobcat Goldthwait, Lisa Jane Persky, Sarah Trigger and Allen Garfield. The most pleasingly odd moments are provided by LeGros as the partner and Tracey Walter as Julian's scruffy, desert-rat father, as they sit around the motel yard, trying to work out the metaphysical significance of it all. Both actors are veterans at this kind of spacy comic timing, and their scenes together are like a communing of zoned-out wise men.
How you respond to Destiny Turns On the Radio, with its jaunty, stylized dialogue, will probably depend on your mood. The film is a bit like Vegas itself--put aside your fuddy-duddy objections and get into the silly spirit, and it's possible to have a good time.--
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.