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If it weren't for Matthew McConaughey's tightly coiled performance, the nasty white-trash drama "Killer Joe" wouldn't be worth the powder it would take to blow it to hell.

Chris (Emile Hirsch), a lowlife Texas drug dealer, needs to raise cash or get beat up badly. So he concocts a scheme with his dim-bulb dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), and Ansel's slutty second wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon), to have Ansel's first wife killed for the insurance, with the money going to Chris' pretty but slow-witted sister, Dottie (Juno Temple).

Alas, the hitman, a moonlighting police detective known as "Killer" Joe Cooper (McConaughey), wants the cash in advance — until he catches sight of Dottie and says he'll do the job if he can take her as a "retainer."

What follows in writer Tracy Letts' adaptation of his own play is a series of double-crosses, which ultimately bring Joe to unleash some righteous fury onto Chris' family in a pointlessly ugly finale. Director William Friedkin (who also brought Letts' play "Bug" to the screen) wallows in the story's nihilism, staging claustrophobic scenes of wincing brutality and lurid sexuality. (When we first see Gershon, it's a close-up of her naked crotch.)

Only McConaughey, who applies his Texas charm to the lethally seductive character, rises above the slime long enough to make an impression.; —


'Killer Joe'

Opens Friday, Aug. 31, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated NC-17 for graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality; 102 minutes. For more movie reviews, visit