Scorpion Spring

All the elements for a solid hard-boiled crime drama are present in Scorpion Spring, except for a coherent story–and a measure of good taste. Debutante feature director Brian Cox shows impressive command over the technical aspects of his production, but no sense of intelligent storytelling, thus severely jeopardizing the commercial prospects of a well-shot film whose profile is enhanced by some idiosyncratic character actors, such as Alfred Molina and Ruben Blades, and score by noted composer Lalo Schifrin.

The footprints of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and their own mentors, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, are all over Scorpion Spring, a contemporary spaghetti Western set in the U.S.-Mexican border, in a region dubbed “Cocaine Corridor.” Yarn also borrows from Orson Welles' landmark film, Touch of Evil, which took place in a sleazy border town and contained good and bad, American and Mexican law officers.

Tale begins rather promisingly with the random meeting of two offbeat characters. Denis Brabant (Molina) is a sleazy French actor, ditched by his mistress in the middle of nowhere when he tells her his wife is pregnant. Almost his opposite, Zac Cross (Patrick McGaw) is a handsome, naive all-American guy, trying to reconcile-over the phone–with former sweetheart Beth. With Denis needing a ride and Zac out of money for gas, the two pool resources and hit the road in Zac's old convertible.

At first, the stew concocted by scripter Cox is juicy, even engaging, for it includes a handsome-looking couple, seedy drug dealer Astor (Esai Morales) and Nadia (Angel Aviles), a Mexican girl who doesn't speak one word of English. Claiming Nadia is his sister, which she vehemently denies, Astor says they're trying to cross the border to reunite with their brothers.

Unfortunately, midway the director loses grip over his tale and its central issues and the plot gets progressively silly and unnecessarily convoluted. Indeed, along the way, the quartet encounters a nasty Mexican drug lord (Matthew McConaughey), a bigoted white sheriff (Kevin Tighe), and a decent border patrolman (Ruben Blades), each motivated by his own personal agenda. Cox's strategy is to pile up more bizarre characters and more outlandish incidents as the picture goes along–until it falls apart.

The vicious shootouts are skillfully shot and framed, with mega close-ups and fast cutting, in the manner of Leone and Rodriguez. However, the Tarantino-like climax, which was greeted with sneering laughter at the Hamptons Festival, is preposterous. By the time the revelations–intimations of incest, mother-fixation, obsessive revenge, corruption, racism–are made, it's too late as the audience has long lost interest in the proceedings.

As the perpetually randy, misogynist Frenchman, Molina brings some needed humor to his part, though he's overacting and his French accent is unconvincing. Up-and coming star McGaw acquits himself with a decent performance, but Richard Edson is totally miscast as a garage mechanic, and the usually reliable Blades has no worthy role to match his talent.

Nancy Schreiber's extraordinarily sharp lensing captures the distinctive yellow-brown palette of the SouthWest, contributing to a handsome film. Impressive production values elevate the pic above the routine generic level, but they also highlight its ridiculous narrative foundations. Cox seems to be a potentially gifted helmer, but he desperately needs a reasonable script to put his technical resourcefulness to good effect.