A belated, Tarantino-spawn crime caper picture packed with highly contrived, high-caliber gunplay and other bursts of meaningless creativity, "The Way of the Gun" is the gritty and stylish, but hollow and hyperbolic, directorial debut of "The Usual Suspects" screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie.
A tangled and twisty yarn of dastardly deeds and double-crosses, the plot begins with a conversation between two bodyguards charged with protecting a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis), who is carrying a baby for a crooked L.A. millionaire and his frigid, disinterested trophy wife.
Eavesdropping are a pair of glum petty thugs (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) who concoct, on the spot, a scheme to kidnap the woman and ransom the unborn kid for the kind of money they always thought they deserved but could never procure with their small-time villainy.
Naturally, they get more than they bargained for. The girl needs a doctor, the bodyguards are out for pride-recovering revenge and the tycoon has dispatched a glib-but-lethal "cleaner" (James Caan) to chase them through Mexico and get his baby back by any means necessary.
As one might expect from the guy who created Keyser Soze, "Gun" is loaded with crackerjack dialogue and wily twists, which reveal that few of these characters are what they seem at first and that everyone's loyalties are fleeting.
He gets carried away at times -- like in a pointless, stagy, early shootout that finds Phillippe and Del Toro jumping in and out of a slow-moving car in a blaze of bullets. But the movie's main downfall is that despite tasty performances from a few stars in his strong second-tier cast, there's just nothing compelling or appealing about any of the movie's impenetrable characters.
On the plus side, Lewis is subtly potent as the regretful uterus-for-hire, rubbed emotionally raw from being treated like an empty vessel (by the parents-to-be) or guarded like a commodity (by her taciturn handlers). Caan is uncanny in his Keitel-esque appearance as the sly hitman with no qualms about killing anyone except the baby.
But scruffy, baby-faced Phillippe and slithery Del Toro are short on significant personality traits, being defined mostly by the way they dimly quip in tough guy criminal whispers.
During the joyless, never-ending-ammo showpiece showdown at a dusty south-of-the-border brothel (during which Lewis gives birth, no less), I realized that I just didn't give a stitch who, if anyone, survived.
Everybody in this movie is a cold, manipulative lowlife, made only slightly compelling by the convolutions that surface from time to time, redefining how the characters relate to each other and adding new layers of machination.
Much of what's really going on in "The Way of the Gun" remains either unsaid or merely implied, leaving a murky haze around each of these unfolding twists. In "The Usual Suspects," McQuarrie's manifold plot of collective collusion all came together in the shocker finale. But in here the complexities never congeal. They just serve as a backdrop for an exercise in vacant movie cool.
Run time: 119 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th September 2000
Box Office USA: $5.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $19.1M
Distributed by: Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%
Fresh: 50 Rotten: 55
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Chris McQuarrie
Starring: Benicio del Toro as Mr. Longbaugh, Ryan Phillippe as Mr. Parker, Juliette Lewis as Robin, James Caan as Joe Sarno, Taye Diggs as Jeffers, Nicky Katt as Obecks, Geoffrey Lewis as Abner Mercer, Sarah Silverman as Raving Bitch
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