The premise of the short-story-size comic thriller Don McKay is as thin and crumbly as a corn chip: The sad-sack, middle-aged school janitor of the title (Thomas Haden Church) is summoned back to the hometown he left years ago by Sonny (Elisabeth Shue), an ex-girlfriend who says she wants to see him because she's dying. She's not exactly telling the truth, of course. In this burg, which is situated down the road from The Twilight Zone, everybody seems to be hiding something from Sonny's weird, mothering housemate (Melissa Leo) to her strange, menacing doctor (James Rebhorn) to Don's eccentric, ambivalent old friend (David Keith).
But crumbliness doesn't preclude tastiness. Nakedly influenced by the Coen brothers' 1984 genre-bender Blood Simple, first-time writer-director Jake Goldberger gets a few good tonal feints in, especially when he consults the Coen recipe book for the disorienting effect of blood (and bloody violence) on American simple folk. (Lest you miss the homage, Blood Simple's M. Emmet Walsh plays a taxi driver.) But the young filmmaker's best asset is Church, the movie's executive producer as well as its star. The MVP of Sideways has a demeanor of laconic resignation that's perfect for a guy who mops school hallways when he's not mopping blood. B–