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‘Red Rock West’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 15, 1994

Saved from straight-to-video oblivion, "Red Rock West" was never released theatrically in the United States -- the film company didn't believe in the stylish sleeper till it started creating a buzz in Europe and at rental shops. A denim-blue cowboy noir by way of "Twin Peaks," it stars three David Lynch alumni -- Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper and Lara Flynn Boyle -- and picks up where "Wild at Heart" left off. Director John Dahl and his brother Rick Dahl co-wrote the intelligent and off-handedly witty script; they're like the Coen brothers, but with a sense of fun and a coherent, entertaining story to tell.

Running on empty and down to his last $5, lean and scruffy Texan Michael Williams (Cage) drives 1,200 miles hoping for a job on a Wisconsin oil crew, but his bum leg scotches the deal. On a chance tip from a pump jockey, he drifts into the next town, Red Rock, where he's mistaken by bartender Wayne (J. T. Walsh) for another Texan who he's hired for a job.

Turns out the job's a hit -- on Wayne's beautiful, two-timing wife Suzanne (Boyle). Down-and-out do-gooder Cage grabs the $5,000 down payment, and heads out to the ranch to warn Suzanne -- who doubles the offer to take care of her husband. As circumstances and dumb luck keep Cage leaving and reluctantly re-entering Red Rock, the serpentine plot gives up more and more surprising secrets.

Pairing wacko cult heroes Cage and Hopper (who shows up late as the real hired killer) could have been disastrous, but it proves inspired. Puppy-eyed Cage keeps a lid on his propensity for intensity, and Hopper, looking like a bird of prey, tempers his dry lunacy with a hilarious hint of insecurity. And Boyle simmers appealingly as soft-looking but hard-boiled Suzanne.

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