Mean Guns review by Matt Fuerst

@JackassMatt There are two different worlds to the independent film circuit. If I came into work on Monday, and told you (my co-worker, play along with me) that I saw an independent film this weekend, you probably would think I put on a funny looking jacket, did my hair up with a lot of gel, and went to some little theatre behind a bowling alley and sat next to some dude that was smoking and looked like Andy Warhol. But really, independent films are a lot more than that, you see, the independent movie I saw this past weekend was called Mean Guns, and starred (or should I say, superstarred?) Christopher Lambert (Highlander fame) and Ice-T (most importantly, Leprechaun in the Hood fame). Now you may not have much respect for what amounts to a straight-to-video actioner, but I think it deserves an honest look at, much like, say a Donnie Darko does.

So, Means Guns. Vincent Moon (Ice T) is the head of the worldwide crime syndicate, hereafter simply refered to as The Syndicate. Of course, if you're running a worldwide racket, you've got quite a few people on the take in your group, and out of that bunch of crimals, some of them are going to be, well, criminal. Moon calls together a group of 100 of his hombres to the new maximum security prison that The Syndicate has just built (apparently they are diversifying their investments, nothing wrong with that I just moved 15% out of high yield into Government bonds in my 401k, I hear you Moon Dog, Ding Dong yo!). There is one thread that unites all 100 of the criminals, that in some way, they have all betrayed The Syndicate in one way or another. Moon reveals that instead of just executing them without warning, he has decided to set up a game. He dumps a few rubbermaids worth of guns, ammo and baseball bats into the pit, and tells the criminals that the 3 standing at the end get to split $10 million, everyone else gets a body bag.

Well, pretty much all of them have generic Syndicate backstabbing offenses. Actually your main characters need a slightly more interesting story than that, so we have Lou (Lambert), an assassin (what a fun word to type) who is over the edge of sanity, who actually asked to be part of the "game". Marcus (Michael Halsey) is Moon's personal bodyguard-type dude, and the only one whom Moon allows to keep his very own heater. Moon tells him that he plans for Marcus to the only one that really survives the game, but he has to play like everyone else. D (Kimberly Warren) is some sort of government sponsored killer, but she really just serves to have really nice hair, wear leather pants, and look hot. The other main female lead is Cam (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), Moon's accountant who decided she couldn't stand dealing in "blood money" and decided to go state's evidence.

The first 20 minutes of the film are setup, and are done surprisingly well. The movie starts out quickly and darkly, and gives you the impression the film that follows is going to be a great noir experience. Marcus is out collecting Cam who is on the run to safety. Lou is out being crazy, and experiencing flashback that would give Damien chills. At this point in the movie, I was feeling pretty good about where the next 70 minutes of my life were heading. Groups begin arriving at the maximum security prison (alright, that storyline is just an excuse to use a set some producer managed to obtain, but I forgive that sin. This is independent cinema people, we use what we have available to tell a story!) and Moon introduces the main plot device. And then things start heading into the toilet. I have witness 70 minute gun battles before, the first one that pops into mind being John Woo's Hard Boiled (Lashou shentan, which ran well over 2 hours and had probably 2 hours worth of blazing guns), and it's pretty obvious that director Albert Pyun has seen some Woo flicks himself. Occasionally he tries hard to mimic Woo's flair for gun battles, but comes up very short. Let's face it, a gun battle by itself isn't going to draw you in, it's going to be the directing, editing, sounds that draw you into the excitement, tension and fear that are the bullets whizzing by the characters faces.

Now let's take a moment and see how Woo would set up a scene, and how Pyun does it. The setting: Lou enters into the kitchen of the prison. He's carrying two heaters, since all the cool guys do that. Score one for Pyun since a main Woo character wouldn't be caught dead without two heaters, unless he is carrying a shotgun. On the opposite side of the large kitchen is a group of say, 5 bad guys. Dressed in all black, armed to the teeth, and ready to kill Crazy Lou. Between them: 1000 square feet of kitchen tile, a few fridges and freezers, and of course, a row of tables. What does Crazy Lou do? Well of course he runs and jumps on the tables, duh. Score another one for Pyun, who is now at +2 director points overall for the scene. Now we've got our cool dude on a table, what do you do? How do you set the scene up? I can tell you how Woo would do it: Set up a dolly on the floor, showing Lou on the table. Dolly from right to left as Lou jumps from table to table shooting at the bad guys. When editing the scene, do some slow mo of Lou jumping from table to table, and when Lou reaches the final table either have him jump off onto the final alive bad guy, putting a gun under his chin or some cool move, or have him dive off the table into a roll or some sort. What Pyun does though ruins the whole setup, briefly showing Lou on the tables, then cutting to the bad guys, then cutting away from the scene altogether. He's done all this setup to get Lou on the table blasting away, and then doesn't show Lou on the tables blasting away. Poor Pyun! Maybe it was budget, maybe it was Lambert just being "too old for this shit" I dunno, but it's disappointing.

The other bizarre feature of the film is a complete and utter lack of blood. Alright, blood is shown in one scene, in the end with Lou bleeding a bit from his mouth, but otherwise: bupkis. I have got to believe the sheer lack of blood was a concious decision, and maybe it had something to do with a country they were planning on releasing the film in not allowing blood on screen, I dunno. But there is no blood to be seen, which for a 70 minute bullet fest is pretty unacceptable.

Mean Guns does feature one seriously nifty soundtrack. Providing a nice counter-balance to the craziness on screen, Pyun decided to use a nice mambo score throughout the film, escalating the beat when action is taking place on screen. It really works well, hell, I didn't even know I liked mambo. I'm still scared from the Mambo Kings. Damn Banderas.

The DVD of Mean Guns is a pretty poor presentation overall. The film is presented 1.33:1, and I don't think that was the original intended ratio. People are clipped all over the place in the film, and it's quite distracting. I don't know if the original print of the movie was poor, or if the mastering of the DVD was flawed, but the film is filled with grain and fuzz. Even for a low budget action movie, of which you might not expect much, Mean Guns delivers less than it should. The DVD doesn't have any extras really, Trimark threw some very poor quality trailers for their gems like Warlock and Leprechaun. I'm sure they couldn't find their Boxing Helena trailer otherwise I'm sure they would have added it to the disc.

As an independent movie, I appreciate all that Pyun and writer Andrew Witham tried to do. Mean Guns could have been a far better movie is one of the following decisions were made: (1) Stick with where the story was originally going, with it's dark mood of the inital 20 minutes, and forsake or at least cut down the battle in the prison angle of the movie; or (2) Directed the gun battles a little better. More blood, steadier camera work, more glory in the preperation for battle (see Arnie and Stallone 80's action flicks for examples). But, as an independent movie, both (1) and (2) would dynamically change the financial demands of the movie. Filming more than the simple 20 minutes of footage outside of the main location means more preperation, more days of filming. I think Pyun knew the limitations of the film he was making, but was willing to make them to get the film done and in the can. Even though he likely made the decisions on purpose, we don't have to watch them, and the film suffers because of them.

3 out of 10 Jackasses
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