A woman's place is behind the trigger
Kathleen Sullivan lives a pseudo-documentary, Robert Altman-esque lifestyle, complete with invasive handheld camera techniques and overlapping dialogue. Having recently moved to Texas from Boston, she teaches liberal-minded history at a local high school and dates a lawyer who got his JD at the Smith and Wesson Institute for Legal Book Learnin'. After one too many venison butt steaks, our barrister puts the manhandling moves on her, and before you can say "No means NO!" we have ourselves a serious sexual assault (and some odd psychological play-by-play by our motor-mouthed masher). Kathleen is naturally distraught and angered by her personal invasion, so she does what every other character in a formulaic thriller from the 1970s to 2000 does: she takes the law, and an elaborate series of projectile discharging weapons, into her own hands. She joins a local gun club and cuts her hair to achieve that stylish Calamity Jane/Annie Oakley/bitter lesbian in training look that was so popular around '83. Then she plots a fiendish means of getting even with her pillager, if only to prove that her rubber gripped Colt .45 Diamondback is more deadly (not to mention phallic) than the rapist's love gun ever could be.
For the early '80s, Handgun (under its original title Deep in the Heart) must have seemed like a controversial, almost scandalous attack on America and its value system. Devised by BBC producer Tony Garnett as a stinging indictment of the US's fascination with guns and outlaw justice, its near Spinal Tap-like presentation of the life and crimes of gun collectors, competitive marksmen, and their shooting clubs must have shocked and ridiculed deeply. In 2003, it's just silly…and oddly educational as we watch our heroine go from greenhorn to sharpshooter in twelve, easy to lock and reload steps. This is a movie that wears its politics low around the hips, ready to draw on the audience at the drop of an eyelid or attention span. The dialogue is part movie of the week, part anti-NRA pamphlet style propaganda paranoia. Twenty years ago this had to be eye-opening and thought provoking. But presently it's as dated as Charlton Heston's various hairpieces. Handgun wants to expose and exaggerate the secret soft underbelly of American global bully tactics; that basically without a .45 millimeter long slide with laser sighting by his side, Uncle Sam is as pansified as the French. And without all that Coco Chanel fashion sense. Decidedly European in ideology and faux docudrama in style, Handgun takes the wild wild western history of colonial genocide and frontier vigilantism and converts it into an after-school special complete with cheap melodrama and easy answers.
Two things really stand out in the Hall of Heinousness that houses this film. First is the way it treats the idea of rape and sexual assault. We are supposed to assume that with his overly wordy banter and peculiar seduction lines (which tend to revolve around John Wayne, ammunition, and How the West Was Won) attorney/pervert Larry Keeler is a capital offense powder keg just waiting to explode in a series of sex crimes. But instead, he comes off as a mild mannered gun nut that spent too many hours in front of the History Channel during Dr. Ruth Westheimer's Rodeo Roundup Days. The attack on Kathleen is poorly staged, wildly unbalanced, anti-climactic, and contains interceding sequences so talky and static that you'd swear this was Peer Gynt, not some ideological exploitation exercise. But even worse is the idea that our heroine fixes everything in her life with the very items the movie demonizes. After a game of cat and legal louse at the local shooting range, our mad molester is injured, embarrassed, and in criminal trouble, and our future Queen of the Six Shooter is walking head high into the sunshine, life once again heart-shaped pillows and stuffed squirrels, all thanks to Father Magnum and his .44 leaden sons. Garnett is so obvious and overblown with his motifs that they border on the offensive (the shot of our revolver hugging leading lady clicking off imaginary rounds in the reflection—and directly over the head—of a photo of John Lennon is in appallingly bad taste) and it makes any point that Handgun could derive seem mean spirited and fanatical as the weapon worshipers it depicts.
Maybe someone someday will do an in-depth investigative documentary about the decision making process over at Anchor Bay. Like the recipe for Coca-Cola Classic or the continued box office success of Rob Schneider, the secrets behind A-Bay's DVD production decisions defy logic (even airheaded LA model logic). Given a pristine 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (if perhaps a bit faded), the print of Handgun is the only good thing about the movie. (Take that back—an extended scene at a local Foxy Boxing Club, with all its oversized pillow gloves and jiggling stripper…sorry, athletes—is worthy of a digital time capsulization). And with a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack and a complete lack of interesting extras (a NOW-style trailer is included to add further radicalism to injury), there is nothing here that marks Handgun as out of the ordinary. It's just a one-sided bit of sermonizing from an angry ex-imperialist who dares not look at his own nation's record with native people "peacekeeping" as it lambastes another country's policy atrocities. But no amount of ethnic cleansing can compare to the pain and suffering one will endure at the ham-fisted mitts of this preachy, passé picture. Our fore fathers could not have envisioned protecting the right to bear this Handgun when they devised the Constitution. Then again, they did create the Eighth Amendment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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