LaRoy Texas (Vertigo Releasing, NR)

LaRoy, Texas is a story in search of a tone. At its core and in its best moments, it approaches the vein of some of the Coen Brothers’ classic quirky crime capers. Although it’s elevated significantly by the presence of John Magaro, Dylan Baker, and Steve Zahn, the film ultimately never finds its perfect groove. It most often alternates between tragedy and hilarity, not totally finding a home in either realm, nor any way to agreeably blend the two.

That’s not to say that writer/director Shane Atkinson’s feature debut is a total loss. There is certainly tension woven into this sprawling small-town tale, most terrifically provided by Baker as Harry, a hired killer. When schlubby hardware-store manager Ray (Magaro) is mistaken for him and takes his job, the mix-up leads to a whole mess of trouble for both men. About two thirds of LaRoy, Texas are concerned with Ray’s unlikely partnership with a local private eye named Skip (Zahn), and the other third (the slightly more interesting third, I must say) is saved for Harry’s pursuit of Ray and the attempt to make sense of the bizarre chain of events that led to the inciting incident.

I suppose Ray’s wife Stacy-Lynn (Megan Stevenson) cheating on him is just as much of an inciting incident, seeing as how the film thematically follows Ray and a few other characters through lessons in self-esteem. Skip is unquestionably the more talkative, personable, and blunt of the two, although he’s constantly getting pranked by the actual police. As much as Skip’s manic energy and constant put-downs of Stacy-Lynn are partially intended to start an arc for Ray, he too is stuck in a similar cycle of self-doubt and unrequited longing.

Magaro has long been one of cinema’s brightest stars when it comes to quiet, yet endearingly memorable performances — anyone who’s seen Past Lives or First Cow can attest to this. LaRoy, Texas is no exception for Magaro, but the film is not written, directed, or shot well enough to overcome the feeling that Magaro and Zahn are in different movies. Magaro is giving it his all in a dramatic sense, and comparatively, Zahn’s Skip might as well be on an all-night bender. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that tone of performance, of course, and he’s often very funny, but their pairing is indicative of the tonal mismatch the entire movie struggles with. It never marries its humorous absurdity and genuine pathos as well as it should.

Part of this problem has to do with the amount of dead air in the film. It needs to feel zanier, quippier, faster for the jokes to land better and for the darker elements to shock us more. When we cut to Harry’s section of the story, there’s hardly any humor at all, save for an excellent winking quality Baker brings to the role. These were actually the sections I savored most because, based on this film, it seems to me that Atkinson is more talented as a dramatic director at this stage. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout the film, there’s no doubt about that. However, many moments that could have reached that level fall flat due to an overabundance of expository dialogue and misjudged timing.

Especially considering the cast, there are plenty of things to enjoy about LaRoy. The mystery at its center is fairly interesting and, as I said, the dramatic material here is nicely handled. I just wish it had either stuck to its guns and told a totally dramatic story or found a way to merge its comedy and tragedy more seamlessly. That being said, the film will likely serve as an interesting calling card for a young director, and I look forward to whatever caper Atkinson accelerates into next. | George Napper

LaRoy, Texas is now available on many video-on-demand platforms

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