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Vince Vaughn and Joaquin Phoenix Clay Birdwell (Joaquin Phoenix) is having a pretty awful week; not only did his best friend find out that he was having an affair with his wife and kill himself, he also made it look like Clay pulled the trigger. That particular act of gruesomeness is the first in a long line of deaths that seem to pile up around Clay like discarded peanut shells at an old Montana beer bar. Enter Vince Vaughn—cackling like a mental outpatient with awesome social skills—as a fishing buddy that ain't quite right, and you've got a screenplay that will most likely keep you guessing until the final 10 or so seconds.
It'd be impossible to review this thing plot-wise without giving vast stretches away, and the less you know, the better. It is an example of the new film noir, the rainy nights and fast-talking broads of the '40s replaced with dusty prairies and hauntingly quiet diners run by folks with no teeth. While flicks like "U-Turn" and "Red Rock West" opted more for a mean-spirited and ultimately beleaguering story, "Clay Pigeons" survives—even flourishes—in its sweetness. Phoenix can carry this movie with weight to spare; he's a human, unblinking eye in the center of this hurricane of death. And Janeane Garofalo, as an FBI woman who nearly falls for the serial killer himself, is becoming a good enough actress to give several levels to a character with very few lines to spare.
Best of all, it's funny. And you can't be funny unless you're a little smart; it's one of the prerequisites. If that doesn't get you, placate your movie jitters with this: at no time will you know exactly what's going to happen, and for those of us who can smell a plot change a mile away, that's reason enough to rejoice.
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