Friday February 4, 2000
T.S. Eliot was wrong about April being the cruelest month. For moviegoers, at least, that honor belongs to January, with some of the nasty stuff bleeding into February. This is when studios tend to unload the films they don't know what to do with, the ones they don't expect anyone to like.
"Gun Shy," a new movie starring Liam Neeson and featuring a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't performance by Sandra Bullock, has virtually nothing to recommend it. OK, that's an overstatement. But what use is journeyman acting, quality set design and a kicky, eclectic score in a movie that's so ineptly scripted? The effect is of polishing a car that has no engine.
The movie is part of the trend of self-aware pictures that spoof movie conventions at the same time that they exploit them. With its sensitive tough guys and psychiatric theme, "Gun Shy" belongs to the budding mob-meets-shrink genre, along with "Analyze This" and the HBO series "The Sopranos." Only here it isn't the Mafia boss who's in therapy--it's the undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent (Neeson).
He's headed for a breakdown after a sting went bad, leaving his partner dead. It ought to be funny to watch him in group therapy with a bunch of whiny men, all of them "sharing" about problems at their white-collar jobs.
There's much about this movie that ought to be funny. Taken individually, the scenes work. Or, rather, one suspects that they would if only they were in a movie in which the characters and storytelling engaged us.
But time and again, writer-director Eric Blakeney sets up comic situations--we can see the payoff coming--but then he doesn't follow through. Instead, the first-time director strings scenes together in such a way--jumping back and forth between people and time frames--that the viewer's identification with the characters and involvement with the plot don't develop.
Bullock, who also produced this movie, plays a nurse in a gastroenterologist's office who gets smitten with Neeson's character while giving him an enema. Amazingly, that sounds funnier than it plays. Hours after they meet, they're rolling together on a bed of manure. (The movie is obsessed with all things scatological). Bullock's role is thoroughly superfluous.
The plot involves DEA infiltration of a Mafia scheme to launder Colombian drug money on the stock market. Oliver Platt plays a mobster so mean he's first seen about to chop off a neighbor's hand with an ax because he suspects him of pilfering a newspaper.
Like just about every other man in this movie, though, he's really a softie, a neurotic mess who only wants to stop living the life of a gangster movie cliche.
One of the funny ideas that works here is the way everyone is aware that they are cliches straight out of an episode of "Miami Vice." It's fun to watch the movie subvert the stereotypes. But, in addition to Blakeney's poor handling of story mechanics, the movie is marred by an overreliance on unfunny bathroom gags and by the way it tastelessly expects us to laugh at two stereotypically gay characters.
You'd think a movie like this, populated by so many self-aware stereotypes, would be aware enough to know when it was exploiting them. But then that wouldn't be this movie--or this cruelest of movie seasons.
Gun Shy, 2000. R for violence, language and some brief nudity. A Hollywood Pictures presentation of a Fortis Films Production, released by Buena Vista Pictures. Director and screenplay Eric Blakeney. Producer Sandra Bullock. Cinematographer Tom Richmond. Production designer Maher Ahmad. Editor Pamela Martin. Music Rolfe Kent. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Liam Neeson as Charlie. Oliver Platt as Fulvio Nesstra. Jose Zuniga as Fidel Vaillar. Michael Delorenzo as Estuvio. Andy Lauer as Jason Cane. Richard Schiff as Elliott. Paul Ben-Victor as Howard. Gregg Daniel as Jonathan. Ben Weber as Mark. Sandra Bullock as Judy Tipp.