Lionsgate // 1994 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 22nd, 2008
In the end, there are only two things that matter.
"We're just like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway!"
Watty Watts (Gil Bellows, The Weather Man) is a criminal, but he's not really a bad guy. Not as criminals go, anyway. Sure, Watty robs gas stations, convenience stores, and he points a gun at people; but his gun is never loaded and he's never really hurt anybody. He's currently in something of a financial bind. He borrowed $2,000 from a disreputable fellow in order to purchase an engagement ring for Starlene (Renee Zellweger, Leatherheads), Watty's one true love. Trouble is, Watty can't really pay the money back, and a couple of crazed thugs named Creepy (Jace Alexander, Rescue Me) and Bob (Jeffrey Combs, Re-Animator) are hunting him down.
In an attempt to try and stir up some cash, Watty agrees to help one of his wild old prison buddies (Rory Cochrane, Dazed and Confused) rob a local grocery store. Things take a sour turn, and a checkout girl is killed. Desperate and madly in love, Watty and Starlene jump in the car and begin a wild road trip to Mexico. There's going to be a lot of bloodshed and frightening encounters along the way. Will our two star-crossed lovers make it to the finish line alive?
The back of the Love and a .45 DVD case proclaims that this is a crime thriller, "in the tradition of Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, and Pulp Fiction." That's a nice way of saying that this film is a Quentin Tarantino knockoff. Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, it seemed like every fifth film coming out was a Tarantino knockoff. A few of these were okay, but most were very uninspired and hollow. Love and a .45 is one of those. Say what you want about Quentin Tarantino; his is an original voice that is very difficult to successfully mimic. Tarantino's films fuse violence, catchy dialogue, B-movie homage, and pop-culture references in a manner that is appealing and deceptively effortless. Love and a .45 takes the same elements and creates a clunky and sometimes cringe-inducing mess.
Things actually start off pretty well, and I had hope that this might be a genuinely good knockoff. There's a scene between Gil Bellows and a young gas station attendant that is immediately engaging. The film introduces Bellows as a thief and a potential killer, holding a gun at a teenager's head. However, Bellows is speaking to the kid in a surprisingly genial and good-natured manner. You're not sure whether he's an exceptionally calm psychopath or a genuinely nice guy who is just going through the motions of being a hardened criminal. It's a very effective scene that ends on a rather clever note. The movie never quite manages to hit that level of quality again, despite faint glimmers of hope here and there that it might.
Watching Love and a .45 is particularly depressing because it just seems to get worse as it progresses. At first, the weak scenes seem just a little off-key, but by the halfway mark they start to get absolutely wretched. There's a scene between Cochrane's psychopathic character and the two thugs that is a blatant imitation of the infamous "ear" scene from Reservoir Dogs (this time it involves some painful tattoo work). It's so poorly executed; unsure of whether it wants to be funny, horrifying, or both. There's a lot of scenes like that. While Tarantino's movies are often able to find a balance between clever humor and extreme violence, this film nervously jerks wildly between the two, occasionally slipping into that appalling Natural Born Killers territory (though without the level of bizarre intrigue courtesy of Oliver Stone).
The movie attempts to populate its violent world with lots of "colorful" characters, but most of them start to run together after a while. Almost all the criminals in the film (the two protagonists aside) do little more than swear, scream, torture people, and wave guns around. Everyone is so damned hyper and chatty in this movie. Yes, characters in Tarantino's movies talk a lot, too. But they usually have something interesting to say. These characters just talk for the sake of talking, and I got the overwhelming urge to tell them all to just shut up for a while. How many torture scenes highlighted by pointless monologues set to groovy '70s music can someone sit through before it gets really old?
One of the very worst sequences in the film involves a trip to the home of Starlene's parents. Her father is played by Peter Fonda (Easy Rider), her mother is played by Ann Wedgeworth (Evening Shade). Fonda plays an old drug-fueled hippie who paralyzed himself in order to get out of the draft back in the '70s. He also tore his throat out once, and is forced to use a mechanical larynx. The character sounds a lot more interesting than he actually is. There's a way-too-long dialogue scene featuring these characters that falls completely flat. This segues into yet another one of those aforementioned torture scenes, in which Creepy and Bob play with Fonda's mechanical larynx. It seems to me that all of the film's worst flaws and problems are contained within this sequence, creating an ideal example of bad writing, acting, and directing.
The non-anamorphic transfer is also a liability. It looks pretty worn and shabby, and there are scratches and flecks all over the print. The 2.0 sound is fine, spotlighting a weak attempt at imitating Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. Also a nuisance: the Spanish subtitles come on automatically, so you'll have to go back to the menu and turn them off after you start the film. This happened every time I put the disc in. As for extras, there's a goofy but uninformative audio commentary featuring several members of the cast and crew, deleted scenes, a music video, storyboard comparisons, and a trailer. Nothing to see here, folks. I should also mention that this disc is actually just a repackaged version of the disc that was released back in the 1990s. Lame. However, we are provided with a thrilling brand new summary of the film on the back of the case, copyright 2008. How exciting is that?
As bad as the film is, I must admit that Bellows and Zellweger make a reasonably appealing couple on the run. Bellows has a low-key, easygoing charm that he is permitted to demonstrate during the film's first half. Zellweger is also quite likable here; this film was made when she was still known as "model-turned-actress Renee Zellweger." These two don't get nearly as many scenes together as they deserve to, considering that this is a lovers-on-the-run movie. Even so, when they are together, there's some genuine chemistry, and it keeps the film from being a complete waste.
If I were ever in the mood to watch this film, I would watch Reservoir Dogs. Better yet, I'd watch Bonnie and Clyde. Hey, did you know there's a cool special edition of Bonnie and Clyde out on DVD and Blu-ray now? You should definitely check that out before you even think about seeing this tired crime flick.
The law wins again, kids. Stop fighting it. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* Storyboard Comparisons