May 24, 2024 1:31 am

LaRoy, Texas
LaRoy, Texas

LaRoy, Texas

“LaRoy, Texas” immediately tests your expectations. Driving down a dark dirt country road, Harry (Dylan Baker), whose car headlights are the only beacons of life amid the barren clime, passes a broken-down truck parked off-road. A few yards later, Harry spots the possible driver of the abandoned vehicle, picking up the stranded soul, a bearded, foreboding hitchhiker who looks like the beginning of a true-crime mystery. Baker is a curious choice for this role, an actor equally known for portraying hapless idiots and soulless pencil pushers. Here, he engages in cheery conversation; the mysterious hitchhiker half-heartedly jokes about the dangers of picking up strangers. Harry seems like an innocent, small-town fellow, deflecting the stranger’s hypotheticals with an unassuming ease until turning the tables. Maybe, Harry asks, he purposefully damaged the hitchhiker’s vehicle at a previous rest stop so he could pick him up.

It’s a smart gambit of an opening scene by writer/director Shane Atkinson. Harry is a hitman. And once he dispatches with his first victim—one on a long list of many—he is called for another job. This one, in the tiny brush town of LaRoy, Texas. Atkinson’s hilarious feature debut is a barn burner of a western-thriller whose Coen Brothers-inspired nods give life to its meek protagonist. 

In another twist, the protagonist is not Harry. It’s Ray (the quietly affecting John Magaro), a native of LaRoy, Texas. Early in the film, Ray meets with Skip (an endearing Steve Zahn), who’s just begun a job as a private investigator. Skip is a bumbling, kindhearted idiot; he dresses in a Black cowboy hat and blazer, probably because he’s watched one too many “Walker, Texas Ranger” episodes. But he does have important information: black and white photos of Ray’s beauty queen wife Stacy-Lynn (Megan Stevenson) stepping inside a seedy motel room. The revelation forces a shell-shocked Ray to please the demanding Stacy-Lynn by fulfilling her dream. He wants to fund her salon—he just needs to find some cash.  

Ray is an all-too-trusting man. For one, he doesn’t believe Stacy-Lynn could ever cheat on him. Worst yet, when he turns to his prickish brother Junior (Matthew Del Negro), who owns the family hardware store with Ray, for extra money, he buys Junior’s cries of poverty despite his brother buying a brand new yacht for his palatial home. Ray is so pitiful he buys a gun so he might shoot himself in a strip joint’s parking lot. By chance, however, a man jumps in his car with an envelope of cash to pay for a scheduled hit. Wanting to finally be somebody, Ray plays the part of Harry. He assassinates his target, is then thrown into a wider conspiracy involving a used car salesman, and then must retrieve a suitcase full of cash before Harry hunts him down—all while trying to save his flatlining marriage.      

“LaRoy, Texas” is a convoluted yarn whose unnecessary intricacies aren’t helped by Ray’s unbelievable stupidity. Somewhere between not connecting the obvious dots of his wife’s infidelity and believing that a salon will make it alright, the character jumps the shark to frustratingly insipid, to the point that you’re ready to murder him, too. Thankfully, Magaro, is so excellent, so at ease playing vulnerable losers, that you’re compelled to look past the writing’s flaws. The same could be said of the chemistry between Magaro and Zahn. This is a film propelled by their unguarded male friendship, one shared by two unserious failures in need of someone to recognize their passions, desires, talents, and personhood. In each other, they find a worthy, moving mirror. 

The film is further enlivened by its silly violence (not unlike “Fargo”) and its interest in men overwhelmed by the brooding evil lurking just around the bend (not unlike “No Country for Old Men”). Vast dusky landscapes and ramshackle hole-in-the-walls are the settings for Ray’s travails; bleak, fluorescent hues color the oddball people in their off-kilter spaces. They’re the exterior textures that speak to the internal marital angst felt by Ray. How does one remain committed to the promise of marriage? What are the limits of spousal loyalty?

It takes far more time than necessary to arrive at the poignant answers to those questions. But the final elegiac scene between Harry and Ray, whereby Ray decides to honor his friendship with Skip while finally sticking up for himself, leaves an achingly bittersweet taste. Atkinson matches the plaintive scene to Colter Wall’s measured cover of the country ballad “Cowpoke.” It’s that assured blending of emotions that makes “LaRoy, Texas” a sturdy tonal journey—a film enamored with those living on the fringes of respectability—that bodes well for whatever freewheeling story Atkinson hopes to tell next.

“LaRoy, Texas” immediately tests your expectations. Driving down a dark dirt country road, Harry (Dylan Baker), whose car headlights are the only beacons of life amid the barren clime, passes a broken-down truck parked off-road. A few yards later, Harry spots the possible driver of the abandoned vehicle, picking up the stranded soul, a bearded, foreboding hitchhiker who looks like the beginning of a true-crime mystery. Baker is a curious choice for this role, an actor equally known for portraying hapless idiots and soulless pencil pushers. Here, he engages in cheery conversation; the mysterious hitchhiker half-heartedly jokes about the dangers of picking up strangers. Harry seems like an innocent, small-town fellow, deflecting the stranger’s hypotheticals with an unassuming ease until turning the tables. Maybe, Harry asks, he purposefully damaged the hitchhiker’s vehicle at a previous rest stop so he could pick him up. It’s a smart gambit of an opening scene by writer/director Shane Atkinson. Harry is a hitman. And once he dispatches with his first victim—one on a long list of many—he is called for another job. This one, in the tiny brush town of LaRoy, Texas. Atkinson’s hilarious feature debut is a barn burner of a western-thriller whose Coen Brothers-inspired nods give life to its meek protagonist.  In another twist, the protagonist is not Harry. It’s Ray (the quietly affecting John Magaro), a native of LaRoy, Texas. Early in the film, Ray meets with Skip (an endearing Steve Zahn), who’s just begun a job as a private investigator. Skip is a bumbling, kindhearted idiot; he dresses in a Black cowboy hat and blazer, probably because he’s watched one too many “Walker, Texas Ranger” episodes. But he does have important information: black and white photos of Ray’s beauty queen wife Stacy-Lynn (Megan Stevenson) stepping inside a seedy motel room. The revelation forces a shell-shocked Ray to please the demanding Stacy-Lynn by fulfilling her dream. He wants to fund her salon—he just needs to find some cash.   Ray is an all-too-trusting man. For one, he doesn’t believe Stacy-Lynn could ever cheat on him. Worst yet, when he turns to his prickish brother Junior (Matthew Del Negro), who owns the family hardware store with Ray, for extra money, he buys Junior’s cries of poverty despite his brother buying a brand new yacht for his palatial home. Ray is so pitiful he buys a gun so he might shoot himself in a strip joint’s parking lot. By chance, however, a man jumps in his car with an envelope of cash to pay for a scheduled hit. Wanting to finally be somebody, Ray plays the part of Harry. He assassinates his target, is then thrown into a wider conspiracy involving a used car salesman, and then must retrieve a suitcase full of cash before Harry hunts him down—all while trying to save his flatlining marriage.       “LaRoy, Texas” is a convoluted yarn whose unnecessary intricacies aren’t helped by Ray’s unbelievable stupidity. Somewhere between not connecting the obvious dots of his wife’s infidelity and believing that a salon will make it alright, the character jumps the shark to frustratingly insipid, to the point that you’re ready to murder him, too. Thankfully, Magaro, is so excellent, so at ease playing vulnerable losers, that you’re compelled to look past the writing’s flaws. The same could be said of the chemistry between Magaro and Zahn. This is a film propelled by their unguarded male friendship, one shared by two unserious failures in need of someone to recognize their passions, desires, talents, and personhood. In each other, they find a worthy, moving mirror.  The film is further enlivened by its silly violence (not unlike “Fargo”) and its interest in men overwhelmed by the brooding evil lurking just around the bend (not unlike “No Country for Old Men”). Vast dusky landscapes and ramshackle hole-in-the-walls are the settings for Ray’s travails; bleak, fluorescent hues color the oddball people in their off-kilter spaces. They’re the exterior textures that speak to the internal marital angst felt by Ray. How does one remain committed to the promise of marriage? What are the limits of spousal loyalty? It takes far more time than necessary to arrive at the poignant answers to those questions. But the final elegiac scene between Harry and Ray, whereby Ray decides to honor his friendship with Skip while finally sticking up for himself, leaves an achingly bittersweet taste. Atkinson matches the plaintive scene to Colter Wall’s measured cover of the country ballad “Cowpoke.” It’s that assured blending of emotions that makes “LaRoy, Texas” a sturdy tonal journey—a film enamored with those living on the fringes of respectability—that bodes well for whatever freewheeling story Atkinson hopes to tell next. Read More