29 Palms (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film has some problems, but you might like 29 Palms if you're really into the whole Tarantino thing. It's basically a Tarantino clone set out in the middle of nowhere - the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. There is the germ of a good movie here - some capable performers, some bizarre humor and characters, and some really imaginative uses of desert locales - run-down motels with lawn chairs in the swimming pool, breathtaking views, rinky-dink jails, shabby casinos, and a remote bus station which has neither passengers nor buses.

A law clerk finds out that his judge is about to alter his position on an important ruling. Instead of ruling in favor of some Indian casino rights, the judge will rule against them, despite the fact that the Indians have paid the judge handsomely for his co-operation. Obviously, the Vegas gambling interests paid him more to change his mind. The judge can't afford to have the clerk rat him out to the Indians, so he takes pre-emptive action. He goes to the tribal chieftain with a ludicrous story that his clerk is an undercover FBI agent about to spill the beans on their racketeering. The Indians then try to kill the alleged agent, but end up killing his girlfriend instead. At that point they decide it is time to call in a professional hit man to finish the job. The Indians give the hitman an athletic bag filled with money, and the REAL film begins - following what happens to the bag.

The rest of the plot seems to come straight out of Tarantino or a Guy Ritchie movie like "Snatch" or "Lock, Stock ... "

The hit man is robbed of the bag by a security guard. The security guard is robbed by a crooked cop, who sends the money to a backwater bus station in the town of 29 Palms. The judge's clerk, running away to 29 Palms after having narrowly avoided the attempted hit by the Indians, ends up with the bag by accident, not knowing what it was. Yeah, I know, that coincidence was a bit too much to believe, but the film is basically a black comedy. Flush with his new-found cash, the clerk then buys a car, and two more bags which look exactly the same as the original and fills them with books, so that he can use them as decoys. He picks up a hitchhiker.

From that point on, the film is a violent, coincidence-riddled, and often incoherent chess game between the security guard, the crooked cop, the Indian gangsters, the clerk, the hitchhiker, the bus station manager, and the hit man, with the three bags changing hands several times and all of the characters coming together, separating, then coming together again.

Bull Pullman was one of the highlights of the film in a truly strange comic performance. He agreed to do one day of shooting in a cameo as the bus station manager. He ended up doing a recreation of Dennis Weaver's weird motel clerk in Orson Welles's A Touch of Evil

The reason I found this DVD interesting is not because of the movie itself, which has some good elements and demonstrates a lot of talent, but is just too confusing. The best part of the DVD package is the story behind the filmmaking. There is a full-length commentary by four of the producers, which is surprising for a movie that (to my knowledge) never played any commercial theaters. There are also two very long summaries, obviously written by somebody intimately involved with the film, which explain the complicated plot and the equally complicated dream scenes. By reading these two synopses, it is possible to get a better understanding of the plot, and to distinguish between the film's reality segments and its flights of imagination.

But there's a problem - and a lesson. The plot summarized in the "bonus features" is not the same as the plot of the actual movie. The written synopsis includes many additional elements which were obviously trimmed to make the film's running time more economical, to make the plot more coherent, to eliminate some unnecessary additional confusion, to get rid of a political agenda which ran through the sub-text, and to remove some elements which just plain didn't work.

The cuts provided some benefits for the film. For example, the film lost a completely silly plot twist in which the hit man turned out to be the real FBI agent. That didn't work. Even in a comedy, it wasn't plausible to claim he was a good Fed after some of the things he did earlier.

The cuts also created some continuity problems, as cuts often do. For example, there is a lame sub-plot about the security guard having become impotent from an incident portrayed in the movie. In the DVD version of the film, the dirty cop calls the security guard "limp dick over there" when they first meet. Huh? We get the joke, but how could the cop know about that so that he could make the joke in the first place? Obviously, a transitional scene was cut.

Compared to what I saw on the DVD, I have read some grossly inaccurate plot summaries written by authors on the internet, and I have to believe that's because different versions of the film were seen by those authors from the Spring of 2001, when the film was first made, until now, some two and a half years later, when the film is finally available to the general public on DVD.

So there you have it. Tarantino gone wrong. ... an excessively complicated plot and a bunch of trims ... a crazy conflict between producers and their director ... a $1.5 million dollar film that ended up costing $4 million and never getting a theatrical release.

The result: a film that looks like it might have had some real potential, but got lost along the way.

The cool thing: the complete DVD package allows you to study how it all unraveled.


Rachel Leigh Cook takes a shower, but her shape is distorted by frosted glass, and it could be anyone behind there, in any state of dress or undress. She does spend the entire film in very short skirts, with an occasional upskirt.

There may be a brief nipple escaping from a dancer's costume in the go-go number at the Indian casino.

DVD info from Amazon

  • full-length summary of the complete original plot

  • full-length commentary by four of the producers

  • explanation of the dream sequences

It is really interesting to see all the different options that the filmmakers had in front of them, and to second-guess them on the final cut, especially on the last five minutes of the film, which confused and disappointed me, but were inventively cobbled from nothing by the editor. Could the team have done better? Maybe. I don't know. But it is fascinating to watch the movie, then to read the summary (thus realizing which decisions they made), then to hear how the decisions got made, and to think about the result. Whether or not they could have done better with the footage they had, I'll bet you the filmmakers have had a lot of time to think about it, and wish they could do it all over again. What they ended up with is not a very good movie, but I'll bet they could make one if they had another chance with the same cast.

The Critics Vote

  • No major reviews on line. There is an interesting review at filmcritic.com that degenerated between some ugly words between the reviewer and the film's producer. It's clear to me that they must have seen two different versions of the film, because their conflicting versions could both have been correct at one time, depending on which cut was screened.

The People Vote ...

  • No commercial theatrical distribution. It was seen at some film festivals. I am guessing from some comments on some websites, that the version screened at the festivals was different from what I saw.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. It is a genre film that shows off a lot of talent in many ways, but is confusing, sometimes incoherent, and balances uneasily between gritty drama and surrealistic farce. The DVD package is worthwhile because of the commentary and the original plot summary.

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