Thursday, May 9, 2024

'The Last Stop In Yuma County' (2024) Movie Review

jim cummings in last stop in yuma county
First-time feature writer/director Francis Galluppi’s crime thriller The Last Stop in Yuma County takes a simple, straightforward set up, fills it full of eccentric characters, piles on one complication after another, and ratchets up the tension and pressure until it must explode. It’s a hell of a first film, polished and sure-handed, and apparently caught the right eyes even before release, since the filmmaker has already been tapped to helm the next Evil Dead movie.


When a traveling knife salesman (Jim Cummings, The Wolf of Snow Hollow) stops to fill up at a remote desert gas station, he finds that, lo and behold, there’s no gas to be found. While waiting for the tanker to arrive, he settles in at the diner next door, owned and solely operated by Charlotte (Jocelin Donahue, Doctor Sleep). A handful of other characters, all stranded by the same circumstances, drift into this isolated purgatory, though when a pair of bank robbers, Beau (Richard Brake, Offseason) and his younger brother Travis (Nicholas Logan, Dark Winds), arrive, the situation escalates.


[Related Reading: 'Offseason' Movie Review]

jocelin donahue in last stop in yuma county

Yuma County initially postures as one thing but turns out to be another. With guarded, loaded dialogue, it initially feels like the kind of movie where everyone has secrets barely concealed out of sight. Only they don’t really. It turns out the traveling knife salesman is actually a traveling knife salesman. And when he stammers out that he’s heading to his daughter’s birthday in Bakersfield, as if it’s an excuse he made up on the spot, that’s what he’s really doing.

The way it’s shot and written and acted, toys with audience expectations. In a typical neo-noir, all this snappy banter would be dripping with subtext and obscured agendas, but in reality, everything is there to be seen. The surprise is almost more that the salesman isn’t hiding anything, and both the two main characters and the audience know the stickup men are in fact the robbers almost immediately. It’s an atypical angle to take, and one that creates a nice, slightly off-kilter effect.


[Related Reading: 'Jakob's Wife' Movie Review]

richard brake is scary

Galluppi uses Cummings’ disarming aww-shucks fidget to both establish the character and ultimately take him in unexpected directions—he’s a beaten-down beta who may have some surprises in store. Donahue does a nice job as a world-weary waitress more-than-vaguely dissatisfied with her life. Brake is as sinister and menacing as ever—I’m sure he’s a nice enough dude, but damn, the man can make your blood run cold with a single look—measured and calculating. Logan serves as a foil to his brother, a lunkhead likely to act on a momentary impulse instead of thinking things through.


Around this core, the film assembles a crackerjack team of character actors. Faizon Love (Friday) plays the sardonic gas station owner, Michael Abbott Jr. (The Death of Dick Long) shows up as Charlotte’s husband and the town sheriff, Gene Jones (The Sacrament) and Robin Bartlett (Inside Llewyn Davis) kill some time waiting for gas, and Sierra McCormick (VFW, The Vast of Night) and Ryan Masson (Proximity) throw a late-in-the-game wrinkle into the mix as a wannabe Bonnie and Clyde. (Or more accurately they’re self-appointed Kit and Holly from Badlands.) And, of course, it's always a joy to see Barbara Crampton (Jakob’s Wife) pop up as the sheriff’s receptionist, serving up brief moments of levity, a release valve for the tension building up at the diner. 


[Related Reading: 'VFW' Movie Review]

jim cummings in a car

Working with cinematographer Mac Fisken (Carnage Park), Galluppi and company create a nice-looking movie. Set primarily in a single location—there are small smattering of others, like the cop shop or inside of the gas station, but probably 90% goes down inside the diner—they find ways to stage, frame, and shoot the action so that the aesthetic never bogs down or becomes stale and repetitive. 


There are a few minor issues to quibble with if you’re so inclined, but by and large, The Last Stop in Yuma County serves up a warm slice of crime thriller pie, packed with quirky personalities, a few legitimate surprises, and tension to spare. By the final act, it whips damn hard and leaves a definite impression. Francis Galluppi certainly came out swinging. [Grade: B+]

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