Trigger Happy

(Mad Dog Time, Larry Bishop, USA, 1996)


Trigger Happy begins engagingly as a comic abstraction of the great gangster movies of another era.


As stars twinkle in the sky, an introductory narration tells of the mighty criminal empire of Vic (Richard Dreyfuss). Then the camera reveals an opulent but empty mansion in an eerily deserted street: Vic's world, but obviously well past its glory days, now unfolding in a barren setting reminiscent of the Absurdist plays of the ‘60s.


Writer-director Larry Bishop (who also appears in a small role) takes the structure of the classic gangster narrative the power plays, tense stand-offs, psychological games, violent clinches and reduces it to a brittle skeleton. And on that framework he hangs a particular kind of humour a boyish smug, ironic clowning-around.


This is essentially a one-joke comedy and its joke wears mighty thin mighty fast. It has the feel of a ten-minute short stretched to nine times its natural length. The empty, stylised sets soon grow irritatingly familiar, and much of the supposedly riotous dialogue plays at the level of inane word games ("Vic is a sick prick, Mick").


One thing Trigger Happy certainly has in spades is star power. Dreyfuss, Gabriel Byrne, Jeff Goldblum and Ellen Barkin have evident fun sparking off each other within the style set by Bishop. Only Burt Reynolds doing an even more grotesque turn than the one he offered in Striptease (1996) jars the ensemble.


Ultimately, this is one of those nudge-wink movies that sets out to relentlessly flatter those spectators in the know or on the vibe. And on that level, at least, it is a modest success. With its cool, shambling references to the Brat Pack, Las Vegas showbiz, existentialism, beat poetry and gangster cinema, Trigger Happy is a film for ageing hipsters and for all those neo-hipsters in the Dave Graney mode who yearn for that particular slice of yesteryear's grunge.

© Adrian Martin April 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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