Destiny Turns on the Radio (1995)


USA. 1995.


Director – Jack Baran, Screenplay – Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone, Producer – Gloria Zimmerman, Photography – James L. Carter, Music – Steven Soles, Visual Effects – Available Light Ltd (Supervisor – John T. Van Vliet), Special Effects – Ultimate Effects (Supervisor – David Wayne), Production Design – Jean-Philippe Carp. Production Company – Rysher Entertainment


Dylan McDermott (Julian Goddard), Nancy Travis (Lucille), James Le Gros (Harry Thoreau), James Belushi (Tuerto), Quentin Tarantino (Johnny Destiny), Richard Edson (Detective Gage), Barry ‘Shabaka’ Henley (Detective Drovec), Tracey Walter (Poppy), David Cross (Ralph Dellaposa), Allen Garfield (Vinnie Vidivici), Bobcat Goldthwait (Mr Smith)


Julian Goddard escapes jail where he has been convicted for armed robbery and returns to Las Vegas to be with his lounge singer girlfriend Lucille. He discovers that the proceeds of the robbery have been stolen by the enigmatic Johnny Destiny who has emerged from a dimensional gateway in a motel swimming pool and may be the embodied spirit of chance. He also finds Lucille is now living with the mob boss Tuerto and is pregnant. At the same time, Lucille’s agent has finally persuaded a record company exec to listen to her performance but Julian’s return endangers her opportunity at the big time. Trying to elude both police and Tuerto’s hoods, and with their fates being tugged by Johnny Destiny, Julian and Lucille try to find a way that they can be together.

Destiny Turns on the Radio wants to be an anything-goes surrealistic/cult comedy. It even seeks its seal of indie film approval by casting the contemporary dean of cult cinema Quentin Tarantino (although Tarantino, acting at his most irritably geeky and whiny, is badly miscast as a roguish trickster figure). However, Destiny Turns on the Radio never quite works. Weird, offbeat cult comedies like this need to make you laugh by centring a deadpan normalcy amid the surrealism. Instead, the film’s tone is vague – vaguely surreal, vaguely fantastic, vaguely a caper comedy, vaguely a romance. The plot runs around in a circle and never rises much above the occasionally amiable. It lacks either the wildness, the blackness, the anarchism or the deadpan of the type of film it aims to be.

Certainly, there are some aspects of the film that do work well – one of these is its use of the Las Vegas location. Most films tend to see Las Vegas as a glittering dream palace filled with luck and opportunity that they appear to have unquestioningly taken straight out of the travel brochure. To the contrary, Destiny Turns on the Radio casts it not as a twenty-four hour dream palace but as a washed-up and dreary desert town. The fantastique elements of the story are wound in in a way that is intriguing – treated as half real, one part whisky-soaked desert myth and one part some gambler’s good luck invocation come to life. The ending with the two leads disappearing into the pool where all possibilities and all alternate decisions come true is fascinating.

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