The Last Stop In Yuma County

Sierra McCormick and Ryan Masson in the comedy-thriller “The Last Stop In Yuma County.”

The bullets and jokes keep flying in ‘Yuma County’

If you’re out and about, make your next stop “The Last Stop in Yuma County.” You won’t regret it. And be sure to order the rhubarb pie. I hear it’s to die for. So is the movie, a 1970s-set noir in which Murphy’s law is practically the only law in town. Name it – bank robbers, a traveling knife salesman, a pair of Starkweather wannabes, a couple of long-married Texans, and a gas station attendant who’s literally and figuratively out of gas – are gathered inside a boiling-hot diner where itchy trigger fingers are the specialty of the day.

They’ve all been strategically summoned by first-time writer-director Francis Galluppi for a bullet-riddled exercise in darkly comedic nihilism sure to do the Coens and Tarantino proud. Does anyone get out alive? I won’t say, but believe me, it’s going to be a challenge, especially with someone as deliciously cynical as Galluppi calling each menacing shot.

It begins innocently enough with the knife hawker (Jim Cummings) motoring through the Sonoran Desert and pulling up to a nearly deserted outpost consisting of two gas pumps, a motel and a diner. The hefty attendant, Vernon (Faizon Love), informs him the tanks are empty but promises the fuel truck will arrive shortly and suggests he wait inside the diner. Since there are no other petrol stations within a hundred-mile radius, the salesman has no choice but to accept.

“Sit anywhere,” says Charlotte (Jocelin Donahue), the diner’s attractive owner, waitress and chef. He grabs a booth by the front window, orders coffee and after it’s served, Charlotte sits across from him to examine his wares, which he assures her are as sharp as Japanese swords. All the while, he keeps close watch on two nefarious-looking characters (Richard Brake and Nicholas Logan) who showed up minutes earlier in a battered green Pinto, also out of gas. The knife guy (we never learn his name) almost immediately recognizes the Pinto as the vehicle used in a bank robbery earlier that morning. Thus begins a succession of wild and woolly events challenging an ever-growing group of patrons to keep cool in an increasingly heated environment.

They, and you, are basically at Galluppi’s mercy, and we willingly submit, eagerly awaiting each surprise twist. At times, it becomes so fraught you almost forget to breathe, which is exactly what you want in a crackerjack thriller. But what keeps you coming back for more is the rich vein of black humor.

Well, that and the terrific performances from the largely no-name cast that includes: Michael Abbott Jr. as Charlotte’s somewhat clueless hubs, Charlie, the county sheriff; Connor Paolo as Charlie’s Barney Fife-ish deputy, Gavin; and Sierra McCormick and Ryan Masson, as a reckless young couple thirsting for misadventure. It’s a credit to Galluppi that he doesn’t showcase one more than the other, an approach that heightens the film’s frightening realism. No heroes here. Not even close.

Yet, you’re quick to embrace each character, intrigued by their possible motives and how they serve to convey the underlying message about a culture of gun violence that often catches innocents in the crossfire.

It’s sorta kismet that Galluppi arrives on the scene exactly 40 years after the Coens made a name for themselves with “Blood Simple,” one of the many classic thrillers alluded to throughout. You almost need to see the movie twice to absorb all the nods, from “Badlands” to “Rififi” to “Natural Born Killers” to “Pulp Fiction.” Ditto for the bevy of clever nuances that translate into a highly entertaining mix of comedy and violence. One minute you’re shocked, and the next, guffawing.

Notably, Galluppi did all the editing. And it’s spectacular, reaching its zenith during a mesmerizing three-minute, slo-mo sequence set to Roy Orbison’s “Crying” – the exemplification of a marvelous use of sixties tunes – in which cinematographer Mac Fisken zeroes in on each principal individually before all hell breaks loose.

There are some minor stumbles along the way, but it’s clear Galluppi is the real deal. And here’s hoping he follows a similar upward trajectory as Tarantino and the Coens. He’s certainly off to a good start with “The Last Stop in Yuma County,” creating a vibe and a place where the coffee is black and the clientele even darker.

Movie review

The Last Stop in Yuma County

Rated: R for violence and language

Cast: Jim Cummings, Jocelin Donahue, Richard Brake, Nicholas Logan and Michael Abbott Jr.

Director: Francis Galluppi

Writer: Francis Galluppi

Runtime: 91 minutes

Where: In theaters and streaming on demand

Grade: A-

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