Gun Shy

(Eric Blakeney, USA, 2000)


A curious new trend in popular culture has crystallised in the wake of Analyze This (1999), Two Hands (1999) and TV’s The Sopranos. Suddenly, all mean male gangsters are being revealed as a bunch of suburban sissies burdened by niggling neuroses, psychosomatic pains and familial responsibilities.

In the grand old days of crime cinema, gangsters never seemed to have parents and families. If they were a little mentally troubled, it rarely affected their ability to dominate a threatening situation or shoot a gun. Their only experience of pain was instantaneous, at the point of a glorious death.

In Gun Shy, Charlie (Liam Neeson), a tough, undercover agent, has every problem imaginable. Gripped by fear, he can neither sleep nor go to the toilet easily. At group therapy, he starts to sort out his complexes. But it is only Judy (Sandra Bullock), the kind nurse who gives him a barium enema, who can really help.

Charlie soon realises that every other hardened criminal he encounters has similar problems – like the Colombian dealers who must hide their gay romance, or trigger-happy Fulvio (Oliver Platt), who sublimates his anger over a bad marriage into acts of distressing violence.

Like other comedies in this current cycle, Gun Shy mercilessly mocks familiar stereotypes – while aiming for an uplifting, therapeutic message. Writer-director Eric Blakeney never quite gets the tone right, but he assembles many clever, infectious sequences.

It is easy for this kind of film to resemble one of the many cute gangster comedies of the 1960s, where killers bumbled around in their pinstriped suits failing to rob banks or hit their designated targets. Indeed, Rolfe Kent’s musical score for Gun Shy comes complete with a mélange of kitsch references to the sounds of the ’60s – a terribly grating way of letting us know when to laugh.

Bullock is the film’s producer and, oddly, she gives herself the least developed role – a handy Muse who demands nothing, merely lighting the path for the troubled hero. A little more attention to the romantic angle might have transformed Gun Shy from an intriguing sleeper into a satisfyingly perverse entertainment.

© Adrian Martin March 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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