Owen Gleiberman
June 17, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Red Rock West

Current Status
In Season
Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper
John Dahl
Mystery and Thriller, Drama

We gave it a B-

For a while, Red Rock West, a tongue-in-cheek film noir gothic, is a likably scruffy knockoff of the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple — it features the same atmosphere of deadpan midnight-movie ghoulishness, as well as a plot that unfolds like a Chinese box of reversals. Nicolas Cage, eyes glinting opportunistically beneath his droopy-dog lids, is the desperate hero, an impoverished young Marine veteran who drifts into the dusty nowheresville of Red Rock, Wyo., where he’s mistaken for a hired killer. Instead of correcting the mistake, he takes the job (or, at least, the money), only to discover that fate keeps dumping him into the hands of the people he least wants to see. As long as director John Dahl makes a point of concealing who’s double-crossing whom, the film’s mechanistic cleverness is enjoyable. But as soon as the real killer (Dennis Hopper) shows up, the movie runs out of surprises — which doesn’t keep it from grinding on for another logy 45 minutes or so. Yet Red Rock West, which premiered on cable, went to video, and finally landed in theaters, has been hailed by more than one critic as the best American movie so far this year. Perhaps that’s because its jokey, hermetic thinness — its very lack of emotional texture — wears the hip imprimatur of art. B-

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