Polychrome Pictures // 2001 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 14th, 2006
An empty magazine of a movie with the cinematic safety on.
All his life, Dillon (Scott Cooper, Gods and Generals) has been in love with guns. He reveled in playing cops and robbers and never missed a single TV show where firearms were involved. Now in his early 20s, our out-of-touch loner is looking for a job. A family friend who works as a bounty hunter (Victor Rivers, What's Cooking?) for local gun shop owner Bill (John Ashton, Beverly Hills Cop) puts in a good word for Dillon and soon he's working in the weapons trade, alongside fellow fanatics Arnie, Tom, and sultry secretary Marla. Sadly, it's a minor success in his otherwise sheltered life. Dillon has been attempting to connect with a callous waitress named Hillary, but she won't give him the time of day, and his parents hate the idea of him working in a gun shop. Mom in particular is an avid handgun opponent and questions his decision every time she talks to him. Otherwise things go along fairly well until Dillon starts begging to be part of a particularly precarious bounty. Before he knows it, people are being kidnapped, bullets are blazing, and bodies are piling up. Confronting his obsession with firearms was more than this loser bargained for when he signed up to be part of Bill's Gun Shop. Now he must face his fascination or pay a steep price for it.
Bill's Gun Shop is a disaster, a flop of a film with plot holes as large as a .44 Magnum exit wound. It's as meaningful as a drive-by and about as sensible as suicide. In this firearm's obsessed ersatz-thriller, we are supposed to root for an emotionally-stunted dork who has his life tied up in a devotion to armaments and pull for him as he plays with revolvers, rummages through rifles, and admires automatic weapons. Our dry-as-a-desert-wind hero Dillon has a personality forged out of wimpiness, won't take know for an answer (just ask the waitress he's more-or-less stalking), and literally defines the Freudian concept of a gun as a phallus substitute. Frankly, this spineless jerk needs all of the Colt .45 cajones he can muster. Without his passion for pistols, he's a veritable void. In fact, this is the big problem with first-time writer/director Dean Lincoln Hyers' film. He fails to create interesting and/or dynamic characters, hoping instead that stale stereotyping wins the day. How else would you explain the raging survivalist, the skank slut secretary (who exposes her breasts during a movie date), the cranky and constipated gun shop owner, the lame liberal mother, or the Native American bounty hunter with the world's worst temper? They all pop, unformed and horribly underwritten, from Hyers' slop job of a script, confusing us more than making us care. Add to that the "action" scenes that sit there like spent shells and an ending that defies both logic and narrative reality, and you've got 98 tiring, tedious minutes of indie irritation.
In some ways, it's not Hyers' fault. Sure, his screenplay is jumbled and occasionally incomprehensible, but his actors don't even try to clarify things. In the lead role, Scott Cooper is so passive, so reflexive, and so reactive that he almost fails to exist. You would never know that Dillon had a home life until Hyers forces one on him -- he's that much of a non-entity. Even worse, he is surrounded a cast as clichés, performances based solely in a single note of acting recognition. Someone named Sage plays the wannabe militia man who apparently has to get Mommy's permission to hold rallies in his garage, while Carolyn Hauck channels her own inner whore as the company carp that everyone seems capable of landing. John Ashton, a long way from the Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run era in his career, looks lost most of the time, while Victor Rivers takes his whole "Injun Joe" routine to new heights of horribleness as the "can't practice what he preaches" bounty hunter. Frankly there is not a single individual in this film who doesn't function in a formulaic way. The African-Americans are all gang-banging brutes, Dillon's sole customer is a wimpy banker who, as expected, uses his newly purchased gun in a fatalistic manner, and the girl our hero is hankering for seems as fickle as a slut who is stumping a married man can be. By setting all these recognizable rejects in the world of guns and ammo, Hyers hopes they will appear novel and new. Sadly we see through the ruse.
Then there is the direction. Hyers goes for a risky, calculated style. He starts off about three quarters of the way through the story, back tracks a little, fast forwards into the present, returns to a few flashbacks, and then winds everything up with a insignificant ending which answers none of the movie's many questions. Are we supposed to assume that since Dillon saw someone actually killed with a gun, he is now cured of his fixation? If so, what's with the sequence in the truck stop toilet? If Bill and the rest of the gun shop crew are implicated in the murders, how does what Dillon does with the evidence clear things up? You just know Hyers is shooting for something Tarantino-esque (here's hoping medical research finds a cure for such shameless cinematic stealing soon) with this time traveling, but it tends to confuse the context. Are we supposed to feel sorry for Dillon when he's on the run or cheer him on as he beds a woman twice his age? The whole gimmick of our hero referencing films also falls flat since Hyers goes for such easy targets. About the only ounce of cleverness Bill's Gun Shop can create is when Dillon gets a metaphysical hard-on for Anna Magnani. Aside from that sole bit of wit, this is a floundering, faceless failure, a movie that fires blanks 99.999 percent of the time. While the subject matter -- a young man hopelessly lost in an imaginary world of gun worship -- has some minor motion-picture potential, our filmmaker does nothing with it. Bill's Gun Shop is an undeniable argument for certain kinds of limits -- not on handguns, but compact digital cameras.
Warner Brothers, who distributes this DVD for Polychrome Pictures and Dangerous Films, delivers a decent digital package. The movie is offered in a 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that is a little on the dark side, but still delivers decent colors and some crisp contrasts. There is a flat, formless look to the compositions and very little actual artistry shows up on screen. Still, as low budget films go, Bill's Gun Shop looks fine. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 is also a little underwhelming. The gunfire comes out strong and powerful, but the dialogue occasionally gets lost in the basic background noises of a scene. In addition, an instantly forgettable score is used to hopefully amplify the movie's mood. It fails miserably. The extras include a commentary (shifting between critical and self-congratulatory), a collection of cast and crew biographies (vaguely interesting), a trailer, a production slide show, and 25 meandering minutes on set as the actors and crew swap firearm-related anecdotes. Seems everyone on this film has a story about a loved one and a gun. While initial intriguing, the constant repetition on the same old subject grows dull quickly.
Maybe with a more focused script, this rubber bullet of a film would have more impact. Perhaps had Hyers hired people who actually cared about bringing his basics to life, the narrative wouldn't be so numbing. Whatever the case, the only thing deadlier than a crackhead with an Uzi is the unbridled boredom you will feel when exposed to this stagnant story. Unless you like entertainment Russian roulette, Bill's Gun Shop is one flaccid firefight worth skipping.
Review content copyright © 2006 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Polychrome Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Director Dean Lincoln Hyers
* "Gun Stories" from the cast and crew
* Production Slideshow
* Cast and Crew Bios