Clay Pigeons starts in well with a plot filled with some deliciously black twists and turns Gregory Sporleder shooting himself in order to leave the blame on Joaquin Phoenix; Georgina Catess blackmailing bitcheries and her shock shooting of Nikki Allyn during sex; and then a marvellously about-face twist as Phoenix and Vince Vaughn drag the body out of the lake, only for Phoenix to find it is the wrong body. However, after such a promising build-up, Clay Pigeons somehow loses itself. The latter half of the film falls into something dreadfully predictable the familiar plot of the wrong man finding himself framed for the crimes and the psycho continuing to toy with him. Despite selling itself to an indie audience, there is something dreadfully predictable about the way the film plays itself out. Indeed, the only surprise the film holds in store in its latter half is its failure to throw any twists on plot denouements that one can see coming off way in advance.
What does hold Clay Pigeons together in the second half however is its cast. Joaquin Phoenix gives an okay central performance, although he is essentially typecast in the same role he played in To Die For (1995) that of the not-terribly intellectually endowed smalltown yokel who becomes enwrapped in a murder plot and is being manipulated by a scheming woman. Vince Vaughn though is the one having all the fun. Vaughn can present considerable charms on screen most notably in Swingers (1996) and the twist here is that Vaughn remains the most charismatic character on screen while also playing a complete psychopath. Although the beaming smile and the cowboy pose gets somewhat overplayed, it is fun to watch the charm being ployed and working on people.
The film also has Janeane Garofalo who is, in this authors estimation, one of the most intelligent and underrated actresses around. Clay Pigeons gives her a part that lifts her free of the typecasting she acquired around the time in light romantic comedies ever since her breakthrough in The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996). Her FBI agent holds attention with her cool deliberated composure and detached patience. (There is considerable play in the film between her FBI training and the towns more laidback ways). There is a fabulous encounter between she and Vince Vaughn in a bar where she cynically deflates his persistent attempts to charm her and then, when he turns away to the girl he was waiting to meet, we momentarily see her annoyance and get a glimpse of just how much she was starting to fall for his line. It is a marvellous piece of momentary character insight on the films part.
(Nominee for Best Actress (Janeane Garofolo) at this sites Best of 1998 Awards).