by Fred Barrett Featured Film Genre Views

The Last Stop in Yuma County — Francis Galluppi

May 7, 2024

Unfortunately, the current cinema landscape doesn’t allow for many straightforward genre films to slip through the cracks. Most that do are bogged down by political hand-wringing or tired character psychology — few are genuinely nasty, even fewer are funny, and only a tiny sliver are good. There have been some flickers of light in the darkness, thankfully: Ethan Coen’s laugh out loud road movie Drive-Away Dolls and Rose Glass’ horned-up roidfest Love Lies Bleeding are just two examples of films released this year that extend themselves beyond the grasp of their contemporaries by, somewhat paradoxically, going for a lighter touch as far as thematic signaling is concerned. Both filmmakers trust the stories they tell and the images they put on screen, enough to forego the subtextual volume war so many films are currently waging.

Francis Galluppi’s debut feature, The Last Stop in Yuma County, is yet another bright spot: the film melds Quentin Tarantino (namely Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight) and the Coen brothers (Blood Simple, Fargo) into a somewhat dusty but exciting, snappy black comedy crime joint. The film is set mostly in a gas station diner, where an unnamed knife salesman (Jim Cummings) on his way to his daughter’s birthday party becomes stranded after the gas truck fails to arrive to refill the station’s pumps. Shortly after getting acquainted with Charlotte (Jocelin Donahue), the diner’s waitress, they are joined by two (extraordinarily shady-looking) men, Beau (Richard Brake) and Travis (Nicholas Logan), their car also low on fuel.

Remembering an earlier radio broadcast about a bank robbery, which included a description of the robbers’ getaway vehicle, Cummings’ salesman alerts Charlotte to the danger. However, Beau, the smarter, more sinister of the two criminals, is immediately on to them and decides to hold the two hostage until the gas truck, which unbeknownst to him has crashed somewhere in the surrounding Arizona desert, allows for him and Travis’ escape. It’s at this point that Galluppi really starts delivering, continually ratcheting up the tension as the two hostages not only come up with increasingly complex plans to secretly call for help, but must also contend with other diner guests,  such as Robert (Gene Jones) and Earline (Robin Bartlett), an older couple, as well as two young wannabe criminals in the form of Miles (Ryan Masson) and Sybil (Sierra McCormick, whose excellent performance in 2019’s The Vast of Night did a lot to make that film memorable).

Galluppi’s skill as a screenwriter comes through amidst these numerous character introductions, as he has a keen sense of character (each comes with their own quirks and tics without veering into broad parody) and the dynamic interplay that grows from their diverging personalities. His command of tone is similarly assured, and the way Yuma County segues from indie quirk to genre violence — the inevitable post-Mexican stand-off shootout is as upsetting as it is hilarious — is remarkable. His disregard for pesky moralism is just icing on the cake.

There’s a love for the medium and for the pleasures of B-movie filmmaking in particular that comes through in Galluppi’s sensibilities. Although his firstling echoes the Coens and Tarantino, his scrappy, up-by-your-bootstraps devotion — aside from the usual challenges associated with getting a film made, the director apparently also sold his house to help with financing, an admirable sacrifice — harkens back to Joseph H. Lewis, Anthony Mann, and Russell Rouse. (It also shares some DNA with Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 debut, Targets). After an onslaught of avoidable, tragic deaths, the grimness of Yuma County‘s ending feels more than appropriate. One wishes Galluppi would’ve managed to pull off something slightly more resonant than what he leaves us with, but when getting to the destination is such a good time, such complaints seem trivial.

DIRECTOR: Francis Galluppi; CAST: Jim Cummings, Jocelin Donahue, Michael Abbott Jr., Richard Brake;  DISTRIBUTOR: Well Go USA;  IN THEATERS: May 10;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 31 min.