WAKING UP IN RENO — ** — Billy Bob Thornton, Charlize Theron, Patrick Swayze, Natasha Richardson; rated R (profanity, vulgarity, sex, brief violence); Broadway Centre Theater.
"People don't want quirky, odd Billy Bob Thornton movies." Or so said an unnamed Miramax executive in a Washington Post article in February.
Clearly, the folks at Miramax don't seem to particularly want quirky, odd Billy Bob Thornton movies, since they've delayed one of them, "Waking Up in Reno," five times since it was scheduled for release in April 2001. The filmmakers behind "Reno" should consider themselves lucky — Thornton also made another quirky film, "Daddy and Them," for Miramax before "Reno," and that movie still hasn't seen the light of day.
As for this one, it's quirky and odd but not altogether unlikable. Just unremarkable. Put it somewhere between "Sling Blade" and "South of Heaven, West of Hell" in the pantheon of Billy Bob's body of work.
Thornton plays Lonnie Earl, cheapskate car dealer and clearly the worse half in his marriage to the well-meaning Darlene (Natasha Richardson). When Lonnie Earl and Darlene take a road trip to Reno with their mismatched best pals Roy (Patrick Swayze) and Candy (Charlize Theron), it has all the makings of an interstate nightmare — given that Lonnie Earl and Candy have, unknown to their partners, taken a tumble or two in the sack.
The revelations and drama play out rather predictably, and the laughs are about as subtle as the monster truck show that is the pot of gold at the end of the jaunt to Reno. The film's pleasures come from watching Thornton and Theron transcend the movie's low-rent trappings and turn in performances that make for goofy, if inconsequential, fun.
Thornton, in particular, chews up the scenery, playing a tasteless two-timer who glibly defends wife-swapping as having the built-in practicality of a used-car trade-in. Quirky? Yes. Odd? To be sure. But there are people who like Thornton in these types of movies and, if you're one of them, you could do worse.
"Waking Up in Reno" is rated R for use of sexual profanity, vulgar sex talk, simulated sex and sexual contact and brief violence (a scuffle). Running time: 90 minutes.