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Lame Destiny can't be saved by Tarantino's presence

Destiny Turns on the Radio

Directed by Jack Baran.

Written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone.

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

Sony Copley Place.

By Scott Deskin
Arts Editor

Imagine a film that goes out of its way to be funny, but in an offbeat, consciously weird way. Films that manage to maintain a manic intensity in this comic vein can achieve cult status (e.g., The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Blues Brothers). More often, these films are bombs; somehow, I think low-budget trash like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and extravaganzas like The Last Action Hero will occupy the same sub-abysmal rank of quality in cinema history. The latest film of this type, called Destiny Turns on the Radio, desperately wants to be a sci-fi-action-romance-comedy, but never succeeds in making much of its quirky bag of genres.

Happily, I went in expecting a complete disaster and ended up getting at least a few good laughs. Although Destiny is a patently awful excuse for campy special effects and a bare-bones plot, no one is expected to take any of the action seriously: The actors seem blithely idiotic in their two-dimensional roles. The story focuses on Julian (Dylan McDermott), an escaped convict who finds his way through the Nevada desert to Las Vegas to reunite with an old flame, Lucille (Nancy Travis). Along the way, he gets a ride from Johnny Destiny (Quentin Tarantino, in the oddest casting of the move), an enigmatic gambler who drives the same car as Julian's partner in crime, Harry (James LeGros), did in a bank heist three years ago.

Once Julian and Harry are reunited, Harry gives Julian some bad news: First, Lucille has become a lounge singer for and girlfriend of Tuerto (James Belushi), a high-profile casino owner. Second, Harry lost the money from the heist to a mysterious stranger who materialized in a motel swimming pool during a lightning storm. Eventually, it comes down to Julian to win back his girlfriend and get back the money - all the while, maintaining a low profile with the police and getting the help of Johnny Destiny.

There are a few good lines in the film. Music industry executive Vinnie Vidivici (Allen Garfield) comments to Lucille how fresh talent isn't found in Las Vegas: It's a place where "acts go to die." And has a certain dazed eloquence when he contends that the dry swimming pool is a portal for the minor deity who stole their money. But the rest of the dialogue is fluff, and the acting doesn't serve it terribly well.

Except by Quentin Tarantino (whose acting credits consist of cameo appearances in Reservoir Dogs, Sleep with Me, and Pulp Fiction, as well as playing an Elvis impersonator on The Golden Girls), the only other humorous touch is provided by a subdued Bobcat Goldthwait as an inept police detective. Dylan McDermott is a rather bland hero, and Nancy Travis is a self-serving and often unappealing heroine. James Belushi is even worse: his version of "Viva Las Vegas" in a bathroom mirror in the beginning of the film is woefully unfunny. Only James LeGros, as the partner in crime, gets away with his lax attitude toward the story that unfolds.

Destiny Turns on the Radio makes as much sense as its strange title. It desperately wants to achieve cult status among audiences, but it fades quickly from one's memory, like a bad dream. This oddity will no doubt find its way to the video shelves rather quickly - if it doesn't slip into the oblivion first.