Ryan Phillippe has all the makings of an action figure. Comb his hair and you've got Clean-cut Ryan of White Squall. Let his hair grow out as seen in 54 and you've got Disco Ryan. Slap some glasses on him for Cruel Intentions and you've got Intellectual Ryan. So, in The Way of the Gun, Christopher McQuarrie's directorial debut, get ready for the shaggy bearded Renegade Ryan.
Fans of The Usual Suspects have been looking forward to another movie from McQuarrie for a while. The script earned McQuarrie an Academy Award and intrigued us all with its suspense and originality. His latest effort, however, falls short. The film opens with Parker (Renegade Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) provoking a fight with a large group of people waiting outside a club. They incite the mob to beat them senseless, leaving them behind to wallow in their contempt for society's rules as proclaimed in a voice over from Parker. It's excessive and it doesn't make a lot of sense. Suffice to say that it sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Despite the portentous opening scene, the film has a promising start. Parker and Longbaugh head in search of the fortune that they knew was waiting for them. This naturally leads them to a sperm bank where donors can earn mucho deneiros for activities they enjoy in the privacy of their own homes. After some playful harassment of the sperm bank's screener, the heroes catch the name of a gynecologist, Dr. Allen Painter, treating a surrogate mother, Robin (Juliette Lewis), who will be getting one million dollars for the delivery of her baby. However, unbeknownst to our duo, this walking lottery ticket is due to deliver the baby of the one of the most powerful men around and his young bride. They waste no time going after her but inevitably run into trouble from the bodyguards, played by Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt, hired to protect the pregnant woman. What follows is some of the film's characteristically excessive gunfire and one of the most inventive car chases to date ending with some successful kidnappers and embarrassed bodyguards.
The search for Robin and our heroes sets the story in motion with plenty of players in the mix. James Caan puts in a solid performance as Joe Sarno, the career criminal, who contrasts the slick bodyguards with his hard-nosed survivor mentality. Relationships and significant haunting events are revealed, and everyone tries to play all sides of the fence. Fans of the Usual Suspects will anticipate the possibilities that McQuarrie could unfold. However, he unfolds them for no good reason. The rest of the film wastes its time developing side plots that ultimately come to nothing. This time would be better spent developing characters like the short-lived gun loving Abner or even Longbaugh. Benicio Del Toro didn't even have a chance to create a character as memorable as Fenster. Even a Heat-esque cup of coffee shared between adversaries Sarno and Longbaugh didn't show us anything memorable about the characters. It merely provided a witty line for them to share. It seemed as if all of the characters were too caught up in action and deception to show any depth.
The amount of gun fighting towards the end of the movie turns farcical as our two heroes on the lam, running on empty, suddenly turn up with bullet proof vests, M 16's and an infinite supply of ammo. The final scene perhaps was intended to be like a showdown at the Alamo but, in execution, turned out more like the final scene of The Three Amigos. The resolution to the young pregnant mother, Robin's, dilemma was settled perhaps a little too memorably for the feint of heart. McQuarrie had a lot of tricks up his sleeve for her. However, they weren't enough to redeem the rest of the movie.--Robert Penty
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211