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‘LAROY, TEXAS’ Movie Review: a cunningly crafted, darkly comical, neo-noir crime caper

Shane Atkinson‘s feature directorial debut is a delightfully quirky dark comedy that evokes the spirit of the Coen brothers’ Fargo yet never feels intentionally imitative. Cleverly reimagining the familiar trope of hapless individuals facing a string of misfortunes, LaRoy, Texas weaves a deviously plotted tale brimming with eccentric characters, absurd predicaments, and a snowballing series of extremely unfortunate coincidences.

Smoke and mirrors are the order of the day in this film that plays its narrative hand close to its chest and sports a mean poker face. The opening scene, cleverly utilising a moral quip on the dangers of hitchhiking, serves not only as an excellent introduction to a key character, but also as a reminder for audiences to never judge a book by its cover. This wickedly playful opener sets the tone for the sardonic plot ahead, but also forewarns the audience to be on the lookout for red herrings with characters like Harry the hitman, who revel in toying with their victims before going in for the kill.

Laroy, Texas has a rather simple plot: down-on-his-luck Ray (John Magaro – Past Lives, First Cow) finds himself embroiled in a case of mistaken identity that quickly spirals out of control. When Ray is handed an envelope full of cash meant for a ruthless assassin, he sees it as the answer to his prayers, kind of. Naturally, nothing goes according to plan; rather, Ray and his co-conspirator Skip are subject to Murphy’s Law over and over again with everyone ending up up chasing down a briefcase full of cash …. with a trained assassin on their tail but, despite everything sounding very familiar, sharp writing and strong performances allow the film to transcend its tropes and cliches.

What makes this neo-noir crime caper feel so fresh is the fact that the protagonist is the film’s most empathetic presence. He doesn’t really have an indecent bone in his body and quite literally gets himself into this mess completely by accident rather than being pushed over the edge. It’s also made tongue-in-cheekedly obvious that the law are firmly not in command of the situation here which is something that is not typically the case.

The cast’s performances are flawless, with Magaro standing out through his subtle yet incisive tragicomic portrayal of a hapless man buckling under pressure. Much like the Coen brothers’ films, most characters are naive simpletons or belligerent fools. The laugh out loud moments are provided by Steve Zahn’s (Captain Fantastic, Wildcat) brilliantly eccentric Howdy Doody cosplaying Private Detective Skip who the police force have it in for. Zahn is an inspired bit of casting who walks the line expertly over-the-toppedness and likeability to provide the perfect well-meaning buffoon that we still root for, despite his bumbling awkwardness. Case in point: Magaro’s poignant performance is the flawed heart of the film, while Zahn’s dim-witted hilarity offers the perfect counterpoint.

The only semblance of anyone seemingly knowing what they’re doing is Dylan Baker’s (Dream Scenario, “Hunters”) chillingly fun hitman. Though clearly competent at his job, Baker’s hitman is constantly thwarted by the sheer haplessness of his targets. Their bumbling incompetence and utter lack of self-awareness make them comically unpredictable, and they manage to evade the hitman’s elaborate plans through sheer dumb luck and this juxtaposition of the hapless and the ruthless makes for enjoyably offbeat comedy.

Set in the small town of LaRoy, the film evokes a distinct sense of place, playing a pivotal role in the film too. By zeroing in on the hollow conversational threads and self-focused attitudes of the townspeople in the monotonous setting, the film heightens the comedy and intrigue generated when a true mystery finally arises to disrupt their redundancy. This ingenious use of the setting reveals the absurdity and darkness lurking beneath the surface of seemingly mundane, straightforward small town life. The self-appointed private detective Skip embodies these qualities – he has invented a job for himself tracking down insignificant mysteries, allowing him to feel important while also feeding his desire for gossip and judgment about others.

As I said at the beginning, the film is brimming with twists aplenty, mostly all out of happenstance that could have ended up making things completely nonsensical. Of course, I don’t want to give any of those twists away, so suffice it to say that even when events spiral into absolute chaos towards the end, the adept writing provides just enough internal logic and causality to make the absurdity darkly humorous and the eccentric narrative surprisingly cohesive.

LaRoy, Texas shows how even the best-laid plans can be upended by chance and human folly, proving the age-old that crime certainly does not pay.


LAROY, TEXAS releases In Theaters and On Demand April 12.

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