Kwik Stop

A slow, evocative first feature from writer, director, and star Michael Gilio, Kwik Stop converts its limited resources into an ingenious Buñuelian conceit: a road movie that goes nowhere. But it's a sign of the film's curiously somber tone that this absurdist gag isn't once yoked for laughs, perhaps because Gilio feels that the dreams of many people are left either compromised or unrealized. In any case, it's fair to speculate that the story is rooted in Gilio's own personal experience as a transplanted Midwesterner from Chicago, responding to the pull of home after pursuing his own dreams in Los Angeles. The title, which would more fittingly end in "sand," refers to a convenience store on the way out of a small town in an unnamed Midwest state, where Gilio is shoplifting a few supplies for his move to Hollywood. As he heads out into the parking lot, he catches the eye of teenage local Lara Phillips, who convinces him to give her a ride home, then expertly seduces him into taking her with him. After a magical night at a nearby motel room, Phillips awakes to an empty bed, the first sign that their journey will only meet with a series of roadblocks. Hard as they try to get back on the road, the two meet with bad breaks and sticky allegiances to other townies, including Gilio's spiteful ex-girlfriend (Karin Anglin) and an aging, alcoholic widower (Rich Komenich) who becomes an unlikely father figure to Phillips. Like a lot of middling road movies, Kwik Stop takes too much advantage of the anything-goes freedom of the genre, inventing one detour after another in lieu of dramatic shape or coherency. At a flabby 111 minutes, the film's length begins to seem arbitrary, plagued by the sense that Gilio is spinning his wheels right along with his characters. But for all its rough edges, Kwik Stop captures the rhythms and language of its Midwestern locale with rare fidelity, creating an oppressive industrial atmosphere that seems to snuff out the characters' ambitions. Oscillating between quirky comedy and weighty drama, the film's wayward tone is hard to pin down, but it's also a testament to Gilio's ability to shift naturally from one tone to another without losing his footing. His shambling debut lives well in the moment, even if those moments don't form a more certain shape.

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