Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane

Friday April 9, 1999

     "Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane" is a hilarious black comedy in which a pair of luckless, 30ish, small-town car salesmen, driven to desperation, agree to take 48-hour custody of a burgundy 1963 Pontiac Le Mans convertible--in exchange for $250,000.
     Blond and beefy Sid (Joe Carnahan, also the film's writer, director and editor) and Bob (Dan Leis), a handsome Dapper-Dan type, know full well the car's trunk holds more than a spare tire. But with an eviction notice staring them in the face, not to mention a meager inventory, they allow their seedy, decidedly sinister car broker (James Salter) to talk them into agreeing to the obviously shady deal. What we know and they don't is that an awful lot of people who've been connected with that mysterious Le Mans have already bitten the dust.
     Carnahan deftly juggles considerable action, humor and irony to a genuinely unexpected finish with a surprise twist. He and Leis display terrific rapport, having fun with every wretched excess of every slick used-car dealer anyone ever encountered, and Carnahan just as skillfully enfolds the comedy within a bloody thriller plot.
     Carnahan has a splendid ear for dialogue and a broad and outrageous sense of humor. There's an inspired comic debate about just what Johnny Cash experienced in prison, and he gets lots of mileage out of Ken Rudolph, cast as a super-smart and ultra-efficient FBI agent whose lengthy and meticulous reports handle large chunks of exposition in a dryly amusing manner. How Carnahan managed to direct as well as co-star in this gutsy little movie with its restless, urgent hand-held camera style is downright confounding, but surely the sharp skills and flexibility of cinematographer John A. Jimenez has lots to do with it. The film, which was shot in Sacramento, has a sizable cast that is uniformly effective, with a special nod to Dan Harlan as Bob and Sid's fast-talking, shameless former boss, a used-car king with a remarkably profound devotion to his ailing wife.
     Fast-paced, edgy and imaginative, "Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane" is more than a film industry calling card for Carnahan and his colleagues; it's a highly diverting and fully realized entertainment.

Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane, 1999. MPAA-rated: R, for violence and pervasive language. A Lions Gate Films Releasing presentation of a Short Fuse Films production in association with Next Wave Films. Writer-director-editor Joe Carnahan. Producers Leon Corcos & Patrick M. Lynn. Executive producers Peter Broderick & Charles Leis. Cinematographer John A. Jimenez. Music Mark Priolo & Martin Burke. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Desmond Askew as Simon Baines. Taye Diggs as Marcus. William Fichtner as Burke. J.E. Freeman as Victor Sr.. Katie Holmes as Claire Montgomery. Jane Krakowski as Irene. Breckin Meyer as Tiny. Jay Mohr as Zack. Timothy Olyphant as Todd Gaines. Sarah Polley as Ronna Martin. Scott Wolf as Adam. Joe Carnahan as Sid French. Dan Leis as Bob Melba. Dan Harlan as Danny Woo. James Salter as Raymond Phelps.

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