ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film “LaRoy” Review: Steve Zahn is a compelling aspiring detective in the comedy Texas Blackmail

“LaRoy” Review: Steve Zahn is a compelling aspiring detective in the comedy Texas Blackmail


When Ray Jepsen (John Magaro) pulls into a strip club parking lot to blow his brains out, his plans for the rest of the week are the furthest thing from his mind. But this is one of many, many downsides of suicide that no one talks about: You create scripted nightmares for everyone else in your life. And it’s especially inconvenient when a local sleazebag mistakenly believes he’s hired you to carry out a murder that duty be done tomorrow.

But that’s just life in LaRoy, Texas. Shane Atkinson’s directorial debut takes place in a fictional town where the residents have only three interests: extramarital affairs, blackmailing each other into extramarital affairs, and beauty pageants for children. When an obstacle hinders someone’s ability to enjoy those precious pastimes, murder is the most popular solution.

While suicide is never the answer, it’s easy to see why Ray is so depressed. He’s second in command at his family’s hardware store, but his ironically named older brother, Junior (Matthew Del Negro), is determined to undermine his decisions at every turn. The constant belittling has essentially turned him into an impotent hourly clerk at a store that bears his name. And even though he theoretically owns 50 percent of it, he’s pretty sure that his brother is ripping off the company and robbing him of most of the profits. Good times.

So when his private eye friend Skip (Steve Zahn) informs him that his wife is having an affair, he’s determined not to believe it. His marriage to former beauty queen (and current children’s pageant coach) Stacy-Lynn (Megan Stevenson) is the only thing keeping him going. He tells Skip—a tie-wearing unlicensed aspiring detective whose meager client list is the laughing stock of the local police department—to let the matter die.

But Stacy-Lynn’s disinterest in hiding her affair makes that pretty difficult. Her respect for her husband is so low that she has no problem dressing up and leaving for the night without even giving him the courtesy of making a real excuse. Left without a win OR anyone to share the losses with, Ray decides to buy a gun.

His suicide attempt is cut short when a stranger breaks into his truck and hands him an envelope filled with cash with an address on it. This man was supposed to meet a hitman in the strip club parking lot, but he ends up getting into the wrong car. Ray initially tries to back out of the misunderstanding, but being mistaken for a murderer is the most respect he’s had in years. He agrees to perform the hit, if only to feel alive for a few days before dying.

The first kill is easy enough, but Ray quickly realizes he’s fallen into a web of infidelity and deceit that involves damned everyone in LaRoy. His anonymous criminal patron is not only satisfied with the murder: he also wants $250,000 that was hidden in the victim’s safe. Ray has no idea where that money is, but he makes a ton of new friends when local creeps and slackers start emerging from the carpentry shop asking for his share. Suddenly Ray finds himself with a new zest for life and a dozen enemies who want him dead.

It becomes clear that the only way out of this mess is to get to the bottom of the blackmail ring that has engulfed the city and find the $250,000 that everyone wants. But Ray’s formerly depressing existence means he doesn’t have a deep bank of friends to turn to for help. He turns to Skip — or more accurately, Skip blackmails Ray into turning to him — and the two incompetent men decide to outwit the bad guys pulling the strings in LaRoy.

The twisty crime comedy shows its obvious Coen brothers influences on its sleeve, but a hilarious ensemble of standout characters keeps you entertained so much that there’s hardly time to wonder if you’re watching anything derivative. The generally solid plot takes some ridiculous turns that require a certain suspension of disbelief, but watching Skip and Ray hunt down lust-filled, money-hungry idiots (Brad LeLand’s turn as the cheeky car dealership owner Adam LeDoux is a particular highlight) never gets old.

And despite some funny stretches of bizarre action, Atkinson wisely ensures that his characters never stray too far from the brooding despair in which we’ve encountered them. Watching “LaRoy” is a lot like the sleazy motel business all his characters seem to have — two hours of fun, followed by a tragic feeling of emptiness and a longing for a shower.

Grade: B+

“LaRoy” premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

Related Post