Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Way of the Gun

I arrived at LAX for my flight to Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati in order to appear on the new television series, 'Celebrity Survivor'. The producers did me proud. There was plenty of press and even that horsey looking young woman from E! television for sound bites and an interview before I boarded the plane. There was just one teensy little problem. I arrived, of course, with all sixty-three pieces (they were having a sale so I bought a few more) of my Louis Vuitton color coordinated luggage packed with all of the ensembles and necessities I must have for a location shoot. The producers told me that I would not be allowed to take them and that everything I might need would be provided at the other end. I'm not quite sure what they'll have waiting but I have a feeling there won't be nearly enough marabou and bias cut diamante.

There was nearly an unpleasant scene until they told me that I could, of course, choose one luxury personal item to take with me. I was torn for a while between my electromagnetic curling wand, my sateen pleated knickers in cobalt and maroon, and the parasol with the iris rhinestone appliques. Eventually common sense prevailed and I selected my laptop with the DVD player and the solar powered battery pack as all my fans out there in the dark would simply not be able to live without my supreme arbitration on all matters cinematic. I also managed to secrete a few little odds and ends that I thought might be useful in the pockets of the rose silk kimono I had chosen as a travelling gown.

Eventually, I made my way on board the chartered Lear jet and settled down for the ride to the middle of nowhere, somewhere south of Hawaii. I popped open the laptop and flipped through the DVDs I had secreted in the storage compartment and selected Christopher McQuarrie's film, The Way of the Gun, as an entertainment for the first part of the flight. I had some difficulty orienting the solar battery to the sunlight through the porthole, but eventually managed to keep the player humming along. The sound of gunfire, a regular leitmotif on the soundtrack kept jolting the cabin crew, but eventually we all settled in.

Once upon a time, Christopher McQuarrie wrote a truly brilliant crime caper film entitled The Usual Suspects with a labyrinthine, but literate plot, impeccable casting, and a trick ending that worked in ways such endings usually do not. He was rewarded with an Oscar for best original screenplay for this, his first major studio effort and second film with director Bryan Singer. Singer moved on to Apt Pupil and X-Men while McQuarrie returned to his word processor and banged out The Way of the Gun which he directed himself.

The Way of the Gun is a sun drenched noir crime thriller reminiscent of the films of Sam Peckinpah and his post-modern disciple, Quentin Tarantino. The twist being that the object of desire, rather than being a cache of jewels or a crate of gold bouillon, is an unborn child residing the womb of a heavily pregnant Juliette Lewis. Juliette, or Robin as she is known here, has been hired to be the surrogate mother for a wealthy couple, the Chidducks (Scott Wilson and Kristin Lehman) and implanted with their embryo. Mr. Chidduck is some sort of organized crime figure (what sort is never fully explained) so Robin is accompanied to her OB appointments by a couple of heavily armed body guards (Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt) who are supposed to keep anything untoward from happening. A couple of low life petty criminals (Ryan Phillipe doing a bad Brad Pitt imitation and Benicio Del Toro looking lost) find out about this and decide to kidnap Robin and hold her for ransom. This leads to a very long sequence of gun battles and car chases in which more bullets are expended than in all of Desert Storm.

Things get really complicated when another Chidduck associate, the grizzled Joe Sarno (James Caan), who has ties to Robin, turns up and takes a hand in things. The cute and squeaky clean OB (Dylan Kussman) pops up again with his own agenda and there's some weird old guy (Geoffrey Lewis) who must be psychic as he's always tracking them all down just in time to make elliptical comments and who turns out to play a pivotal plot role. Eventually, most of the cast turns up in a Mexican bordello that looks like the Alamo after the tourists have had a six day kegger and there's a twenty minute gun battle during which many key cast members get shot. There's also meatball surgery going on upstairs just to keep things interesting.

In other words, McQuarrie blew it this time. While the plot device of the unborn baby is interesting and unusual, its trapped in a bunch of gunslinger cliches that were old forty years ago. They've been souped up with an ear splitting soundtrack and lots of loving photography but we've seen this done to death in such films as The Wild Bunch or True Romance. McQuarrie, the director, salvages what he can from McQuarrie the writer and, for a novice director, delivers on the images and shows a certain visual flair. He just needs a better script next time.

The cast isn't bad, just awkward in their poorly shaped roles. Taye Diggs continues his quest for the Most Wooden Performance by a Supporting Actor award, but the others give it their all. Ryan Phillipe comes off the worst. He seems to be doing a variation on Brad Pitt scruffy a la Fight Club or Snatch but can't even begin to project Pitt's menace or charisma. Benicio Del Toro is better, but really hasn't been given a character to play, just an idea - he does what he can. James Caan, slumming to pay the rent, turns in a professional turn, but there's nothing interesting or special. Juliette Lewis is her usual grating self. I kind of liked Dylan Kussman's smarmy doctor with a couple of big secrets, maybe because he at least had a character to play and some objectives that weren't patently obvious.

The film is loud, violent, somewhat twisted in its humor, and not as cool or original as it wants you to think it is. On the other hand, it's somewhat enjoyable as a fairly well made example of the Blood Guts Bullets and Octane subgenre of film making. The DVD is in widescreen with a good picture transfer and a piercing soundtrack. Extras include a commentary by McQuarrie (which I could not bring myself to sit through as I had no interest in subjecting myself to the film again) and storyboards of scenes that were planned, but not shot.

Illicit affairs. Interracial sex. Parking lot fracas. Broken beer bottle through hand. Shotgun through motel door. Surgical needle through spine. Gratuitous sloppy prostitute. Multiple dead bystanders. Ransom in small notes. Gratuitous abruptio placenta.

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