Steve Zahn stars in Laroy, Texas

Film Review: LaRoy, Texas


Laroy, Texas
Director: Shane Atkinson

Next Flot and Adastra Films
In Theaters and Streaming On Demand: 04.12

It’s an inevitable side effect of making your mark on the film industry that great filmmakers can end up creating their own subgenres. We’ve certainly seen plenty of countless independent films that are little more than pale imitations of Quentin Tarantino (The Boondocks Saints being only one example) and LaRoy, Texas is the most recent film that desperately wants to be channel the dark comic genius and quirkiness of Joel and Ethan Coen.

Ray Jepsen (John Magaro, First Cow, Past Lives) is timid and unexceptional guy who co-owns a hardware store in LaRoy, Texas with his older brother, Junior (Matthew Del Negro, Wind River), whose entire self image is defined by his marriage to the local beauty queen, Stacy-Lynn (Megan Stevenson, Get Shorty), who dreams of starting her own salon and is pressuring Ray to find a way to come up with the money to make it happen. When a private detective named Skip (Steve Zahn, That Thing You Do!, The White Lotus) shows up to break the news to Ray that Stacy-Lynn is having an affair, Ray is devastated. He buys a gun and heads to a rundown motel parking lot with the intention of killing himself in his parked car. Before Ray can pull the trigger, a stranger gets in the car, mistaking Ray for a hitman he’s hired, and hands him an envelope filled with money and the target’s address. Ray sees an opportunity to win back Stacy-Lynn by paying for her salon, and finds himself going along with the idea, taking the money and considering actually going through with it, under the delusion that he is somehow reclaiming his manhood. Not surprisingly, Ray quickly realizes that he’s made the wrong choice, but not in time to stop a series of events that spirals far out of his control when Harry (Dylan Baker, Spider-Man 2, Thirteen Days), the real hit man, shows up wanting his money, and Skip, the detective, may be the only person that Ray can trust.

Writer-director Shane Atkinson makes his feature debut with this darkly comedicneo-western and it gets off to a great start with an opening sequence introducing Baker’s character that had me really hooked. It starts to get a bit wobbly from there, however, and while LaRoy, Texas has a lot of strong elements to work with, chief among them being the cast and characters, it really struggles to find its footing. The weakest element is the story, which follows the Coen Brothers’ model of quirky characters in a small town making bad choices and getting caught up in an criminal scheme gone wrong (for examples, see Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Fargo and more). It’s formulaic and a bit derivative, and while it’s entertaining enough in the second half, it moves with a tentative saunter before it starts to stride with a sense of purpose. The film fares best when it’s focusing on the Ray and Skip dynamic, and while we may not be too enthusiastic about rooting for either of them individually, as they get pulled into working together as detective team, it’s hard not to get attached to the odd duo.

Magaro is a terrific actor who is giving it his all to make Ray a classic unlikely protagonist, and despite a dearth of memorable dialogue, he comes close enough to pulling it off in the second half. Zahn is a hoot as Skip, who wears a black Stetson and suit with a bolo tie at all times—Stacy-Lynn remarks that he looks like he’s “going to cowboy prom”—and the treasured character actor nails the role of the hapless loser desperate for validation. Even better is Baker, playing creatively against type as the tough-as-nails Harry, who uses the fact that he’s the last person you’d look at and say “he might be a hit man.” The rest of the characters are painted with broad strokes, and for the most part are only memorable because they are incredibly annoying.

LaRoy, Texas isn’t bad, and as an enthusiastic fan of Magaro and Zahn, I found it to be well worth my time, though it’s hard to turn that into a strong recommendation unless you really share a love for one or both. When you consider that LaRoy, Texas is getting a much wider release on digital video than in theaters, the feeling that your time is better spent by rewatching a Coen classic if you’ve seen them, and much better spent catching up on them if you haven’t, makes it difficult to get by behind this one with too much vigor. The film’s underlying theme of wanting and deserving something better is meant for the character, but sadly, it applies just a bit too much more to the cast and the audience. –Patrick Gibbs

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