Clay Pigeons is the sort of wacky dark comedy that tries to be irreverent right off the bat. But, unfortunately, it’s about halfway through before it settles into a good comedic groove. Luckily, if you stick it out, there’s something worth waiting for.
In a small Montana town, there’s trouble brewing. And poor Clay (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself in the center of it. He gets into the unfortunate habit of discovering dead bodies. Soon, Sheriff Mooney (Scott Wilson) begins to suspect Clay of murder.
Clay’s acquaintances don’t help things out. His best friend, Earl (Gregory Sporleder) has gone a little gun crazy. It doesn’t help that Clay is having an affair with Earl’s oversexed wife, Amanda (Georgina Cates). But it’s the new guy in town, Lester Long (Vince Vaughn) who offers the most help to Clay…but can anyone who prides himself on the nickname “Lester the Molester” truly be trusted???
As Clay finds himself deeper and deeper in trouble, soon the FBI is called in to investigate. Under the thorough scrutiny of Agent Shelby (Janeane Garofalo), certainly the FBI will find the truth. Or has Clay simply been set up as a clay pigeon in a target shoot?
This dark comedy takes a little while to warm up. It’s not until you’ve gotten past the first couple of twists that things start to ignite. The first character who gets things started is Vince Vaughn’s Lester Long. His presence in the film enlivens the atmosphere with is bizarrely idiosyncratic ways.
Another welcome presence is Janeane Garofalo. Though her FBI character is hardly unique, she brings a breath of fresh air to the proceedings. An efficient outsider, she easily represents the audience as a person incredulous to the happenings in this small town.
Joaquin Phoenix does a good job at playing the hapless everyman. But he can’t compare to the other, better written characters. When he’s on the screen, you’re constantly hoping one of the other actors will appear to spice things up.
The plot of Clay Pigeons tends to stretch credulity, even when viewed as a comedy. The endless string of dead body “discoveries” seems a little forced. It’s not until Lester Long pops up that you’re distracted enough to take everything in stride.
In short, it’s more the cast that makes things work in Clay Pigeons than the story. It certainly could have been a stronger picture, but it’s one that grows on you.