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FATAL DISTRACTION

If you choose to imagine that a woman can get pregnant by dreaming about it, or that the god of good fortune is really Quentin Tarantino and he lives on the bottom of the swimming pool at a fleabag motel in Las Vegas, then Destiny Turns on the Radio may be your kind of movie. On the other hand, if you find ten-cent mysticism, hip posing and sophomoric dialogue irritating, you might want to spend your six bucks elsewhere.

The perpetrators of this pretentious mess are Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, the recent college graduates who wrote the screenplay, and Jack Baran, who directed it. Dedicated postliterates, they propose to do with patches of synthesized attitude those things that neither their words nor their actors are capable of--create an atmosphere of romantic adventure, spike the narrative with dark criminal mischief, then tuck the whole business away in a bed of ineluctable magic.

The belabored plot, insofar as you can discern one, concerns an escaped convict, Julian Goddard (Dylan McDermott), who returns to Las Vegas (once again, the "town of limitless possibilities") to retrieve his share of the loot from a robbery, and Lucille, the love of his life. Not bad so far, but this ersatz film noir is so loaded down with self-conscious quirks, arch caricatures and maddening dead ends that it never gets off the ground.

Tarantino, a master of crisp dialogue and vivid characters in his own films, pops up here as the highly theoretical "Johnny Destiny," a sullen wraith who materializes in cars and casinos to impart luck. Clearly, he did someone a favor by taking the part, and now it's done. Never again will he have to rise from the deep end of a motel pool, his entire body crackling with little bolts of special-effects lightning.

Nancy Travis is the sultry chanteuse Lucille, who indulges in a pair of heavy-handed torch songs but has no other apparent function. Jim Belushi is the snide casino owner, Tuerto, who's been tending Lucille in Julian's absence, and his comic limitations are everywhere evident. James LeGros is Julian's lackadaisical partner in crime, now proprietor of the rundown Marilyn Motel--where each room is named for a Marilyn Monroe movie. Bobcat Goldthwait is the inevitable bumbling undercover cop, and he spends most of these ninety minutes lashed to a bedstead.

The whole thing is resolutely cool, sneeringly postmodern and stubbornly empty-headed. It's also as familiar as stale bread, and its extended hipster joke about the movies of the Forties, the culture of Vegas and its own weary ennui is so thin and weak that the moviemakers themselves will probably enjoy it best.

 
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