The gun in Judge Josh Rode's backpack carries a 480cc round of water.
She's shy. She's sensitive. She armed and dangerous.
The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag fits into the category of "Vaguely Familiar Titles From the Nineties," which is not a group that would normally warrant a Blu-ray release twenty years later. It was the middle film of director Allan Moyle's short-lived mainstream appeal, sandwiched between Pump Up the Volume and Empire Records.
Facts of the Case
Look up the word "doormat" in Webster's and you'll find a picture of Betty Lou (Penelope Ann Miller, Carlito's Way). She is alternately dominated and ignored by her husband, bullied by her boss, and can't even stand up to a grocery clerk who won't let her use a coupon.
But when she finds a gun that's linked to a murder, something inside of her snaps and she starts making decisions that are entirely un-Betty-Lou-ish.
The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag will ask you to take a couple of logical leaps to get where it wants to go. How willing you are to go along will determine how enjoyable you find the film.
A hustling car salesman is gunned down after trying to run from a crime boss; afterward, the hit man tosses the murder weapon into a river. Despite being made of metal, the gun washes to shore where it is found by Betty Lou Perkins. When she accidentally shoots a mirror with it while attempting to get it to the police station, she finds herself being interrogated for the murder of the salesman.
Here's the first (and biggest) leap: instead of just telling everyone what happened, she confesses to the murder. The logic behind it is that she kinda likes the attention she's suddenly receiving and she's really annoyed at Alex, her police detective husband (Eric Thall, Snow Falling on Cedars), because he won't shut up and let her speak for herself. The linchpin is when he says everything will "go back to the way it was," which she desperately does not want.
So she goes to jail where she meets prostitute Reba Bush (Cathy Moriarty, Raging Bull) who gives Betty Lou lessons on style and panache. She uses both at her initial hearing, showing up in a tight, slinky dress and a new 'do, both of which apparently convince the judge to take leap number two: she's freed without bail pending her actual trial.
The rest of the plot is a fairly standard crime boss showdown, since the boss in question thinks Betty Lou has an incriminating audio tape that had been in the possession of the murdered salesman. The plot is only a frame on which to put the real story, which is Betty Lou's growing self-respect and how that affects her relationships with the people around her, especially Alex. See, confessing to the murder meant she also confessed to having an affair, which her husband might be angry about except that he doesn't believe it for a second. The reason he doesn't believe it is the interesting part; it's not because she's just so pure that he knows she would never do such a thing. It's all about him.
"Why is it so hard to believe that I might be exciting to other men?" Betty Lou asks. "People have affairs. People have lovers. Why not me, Alex?"
"'Cause I never did. I never had anyone but you."
So, the reason she wouldn't have an affair is because he wouldn't? That's either very interesting insight into his character, or it's just bad script writing.
It's hard to say whether Thall or his character is to blame for Alex's inherent un-likeability. Certainly Alex is a domineering ass, but Thall's only expression is a dour glare; not once did I believe that he truly cared about her. We're supposed to want Betty Lou and Alex to get back together and be happy, but Alex is such a jerk for most of the movie that despite turning into the Sundance Kid at the end, I still wanted Betty Lou to tell him to shove off.
Penelope is engaging and handles both the mousy and the slightly more assertive versions of Betty Lou with conviction. The film doesn't make her go from doormat to complete dominatrix, which is certainly to its credit. They probably could have stretched her a bit more, but it's better this way than too far the other. The secondary actors do a decent job with what they're given, especially Alfrie Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact) as Betty Lou's fresh-off-her-third-bar-exam attorney Ann Orkin, who brings some needed energy to the middle part of the film.
It loses some points for the ending, which isn't as satisfying as it could be, but in the final analysis, the The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag delivers a reasonably fun story as long as you can suspend your disbelief and just go with the premise.
If you already have the DVD, the only reason to upgrade to Blu-ray is the dirt cheap price on Amazon. There are no extras, the sound is in simple 2.0 DTS HD stereo, and the 1080p 1.78:1 picture, while better than the standard 480p, isn't anything to brag about. The colors are a bit muted and lack depth, but at least there isn't significant grain or any of the flakes that mar some of Mill Creek's releases.
The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag is not a classic in any sense, but it makes for a pleasant rainy day movie.
Guilty of misdemeanor plot manipulation. Sentenced to time served.
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