Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix, ...

In “Clay Pigeons,” women are full-lipped sexual predators who get knocked off gruesomely, preferably during sex. Men are smooth-talking cowboys bound to their buddies with much stronger emotional ropes than to the cuties they bed and bash. The more vicious the killer, the more charm he exudes. (Motive? Postmodern killers don’t need no stinkin’ motives.) And every scene is powered by a cut from a soundtrack available in a CD bin near you. In other words, it’s young-Hollywood-driven business as usual in this derivative, nasty, and ultimately empty drama.

Commercial director David Dobkin, in his feature debut, invokes “In Cold Blood,” Hemingway, and Edward Hopper in the course of explicating his “daylight noir” intentions. But that’s just so much heifer dust. First-time screenwriter Matt Healy’s pointless story about a small-town Montana gas jockey (Joaquin Phoenix, a riveting actor made to fumble), his best friend’s wife (Georgina Cates), a dangerously friendly stranger (Vince Vaughn), and a wise-gal FBI agent (Janeane Garofalo) is worthwhile for one reason: the unceasingly interesting Garofalo. Once again, she’s the real McCoy in a phony premise, and she puts girl-fearing cowboys to shame.

Clay Pigeons
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