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Proof that in the ’90s anything could get green-lit: “Destiny Turns on the Radio”

August 8, 2015

Poster

1995’s Destiny Turns on the Radio is one of those movies that, for a long time, I just assumed I’d imagined. After all, there couldn’t possibly be a movie in which Quentin Tarantino plays a supernatural agent of fate that comes out of a swimming pool, right? Hallucinogens weren’t all that popular in ‘90s, so why would anyone think that was a good idea? The movie’s near-total absence from the home video market seemed to support my theory that this was just a product of my fevered imagination, fueled by heroic amounts of Mountain Dew and endless rewatchings of Pulp Fiction.

Yeah, but nope, it’s real. And now it’s on iTunes. And holy god, it’s so bad.

I looked for this movie, because I had to be sure it existed and to see what, precisely it was. Seldom do movies make as little of an impact on the pop-culture landscape as this one. As a matter of fact, this movie is like pop-culture antimatter. As opposed to building hype, it seemed to actively invite people to forget they ever saw it, like the Predator monster or those things with the creepy mouths on Doctor Who that you forget about as soon as you turn away. I expect that happened to the 150 or 200 or so people that actually saw this movie. Or else, they wished that would happen.

Destiny Turns on the Radio (Jesus, just the title says “this is movie is an insufferable ball-gag of hipsterism”), actually has a pretty simple plot. Bank robber Julian Goddard (Dylan McDermott) breaks out of prison after three years and heads to Las Vegas to collect his share of the loot from his partner, Thoreau (James Le Gros), and reconnect with his old flame Lucille (Nancy Travis). Along the way, he’s given a ride by a mysterious hepcat named Johnny Destiny (Tarantino).

(sigh)

(sigh)

Unfortunately for Julian, Lucille is married to a local hood/casino owner named Tuerto (Jim Belushi—the last actor who should be playing someone named “Tuerto”). On top of that Thoreau lost the money to Johnny Destiny shortly after the robbery, when Destiny emerged from a motel swimming pool nude amid a blaze of lightning and bad SFX electricity. Getting the idea what kind of movie this is? Yeah, it’s all that and less.

So, Julian tries to win Lucille back, dodging Tuerto’s thugs and the local cops, while Thoreau prepares for a reunion with Destiny. This is then dragged out for 100 excruciating minutes. In fairness, the filmmakers pad out the runtime with subplots about Lucille’s pregnancy and big chance to impress a record producer. Still, the movie mostly features endless scenes of Le Gros dicking around at his ramshackle motel barfing pseudo-philosophical dialogue that sound smart of you’re a pretentious teenager.

There are a lot of questionable fashion choices in this movie.

There are a lot of questionable fashion choices in this movie.

DTotR (No, I’m not writing the whole title out because fuck you, movie) is really a collection of some of the worst tropes of ‘90s movies. Tarantino’s presence hangs heavily over this movie—and not just because of his role (which amounts to probably less than 10 minute of screen time). It’s pretty clear that screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone were heavily-influenced by Tarantino’s languid shooting style in which long scenes play out with characters mouthing quasi-deep, very affected dialogue. The difference being, Tarantino’s scenes have substance to them. These guys, in the first movie of a career that didn’t go very far, just write dialogue they think sounds cool, but that no human being has ever said, like: “You are seriously underestimating the power of the forces that were aligned against us” or “the Universe is expanding…it’s beyond one man’s ability to stem the tide of the chaos.”

Any movie that features a scene like this doesn't deserve to live.

Any movie that features a scene like this doesn’t deserve to live.

On top of that, we have some very ‘90s actors taking center stage here—McDermott, Travis, and Le Gros were all pretty much staples of the ‘90s before sinking into smaller, but still lucrative, TV careers. It’s hard to say that everyone in this movie is miscast—I can’t imagine anyone making these roles work—but these are still not the right actors for these parts. McDermott has never had much range beyond his blue-collar, East Coast guy persona, yet here he tries to affect a southwestern accent, and, wow…it’s just…I mean, when he actually remembers to use it it’s pretty fucking terrible. Travis, for her part, tries for some of the absurdist energy the movie seems to be aiming for, but she lacks the sex-appeal to be a torchy nightclub singer.

Dylan McDermott--making douchiness look effortless since 1993.

Dylan McDermott–making douchey look effortless since 1993.

No one involved in this movie seems to know what they’re supposed to be doing there. McDermott and Travis play their roles on the verge of exaggerated caricature—which might be the way to go. But then you have Belushi who’s putting in an actual, honest-to-God performance, and Le Gros who may as well be in his own movie.

Finally, you have Tarantino, who just shrugs through his role with an aloofness that might be cool, if the movie wasn’t so terrible that he’s guilty by association for just being in it. Granted, he signed to do this movie a few days before Pulp Fiction opened at Cannes and began its runaway success, but, Jesus, he still had Reservoir Dogs under his belt.

And any movie that features a nude QT, showing off his dad-bod, while inviting you to “come with me” into a pool, was pretty much wrong-headed from jump.

So, what’s the final ‘90s count here?

* Arch, Tarantinoid dialogue

* Southwestern setting (why was this a thing in the ‘90s?)

* Dylan McDermott, Nancy Travis, and James Le Gros are in a movie.

* Pants with pleats big enough to serve as a mainsail on an America’s Cup winner.

* Quentin Tarantino in a speaking role

* Vague, new agey mumbo jumbo

So, that’s Destiny Turns on the Radio. I still have no idea what the title means.

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