Tracy Letts’ story of a calculating killer and fucked-up family started as a play in 1993, starring Michael Shannon at Next Theatre just north of Chicago, then the 2011 theatrical release, and now the unrated director’s cut DVD "Killer Joe" with Matthew McConaughey as the black-hatted hit man and Thomas Haden Church as the dumb dad.
As with most adaptations from Windy City stages to Hollywood screens, something gets lost in translation. The claustrophobic, one-set location, the raw scenery-chewing tempest in a teapot, fizzles out on film, here into an awkward amalgam of homicide and humor.
There are no bras but lots of bushes on display as the two women - slutty stepwife Sharla (Gina Gershon) and brain-damaged daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) - are passed around like chattel during an ill-conceived murder-for-insurance-money scheme.
Director William Friedkin works to make the misogyny humorous, and eschews subtlety by having neighborhood trailer-park dog T-Bone bark at everyone, except at slick Joe; and dangles a "Sport of Kings" sign above loser son Chris’s (Emile Hirsch) head when he squanders even more cash at the OTB window. Dottie wears her hair up in a crazy, messy vertical pile in case we forget she’s not right. Then it gets very weird when control-freak Joe forces Sharla, after he’s smacked her around and bloodied her nose, to suck off a "K. Fry C." chicken drumstick held at his crotch. It’s finger-lickin’ bizarre.
Only Church can convincingly deliver the strange blend of violence and comedy. When asked, "Did you know all this was going on?" he honestly responds, "I’m never aware."
Special features include Friedkin’s audio commentary, a Q&A with the cast at the SXSW Festival, and "Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen." Too bad the DVD doesn’t come with wet naps.