Complicated plot muddles McQuarrie's debut

Reactions split on 'Way of the Gun'

Forget, for a minute, the naive assumption that a movie written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the director of "The Usual Suspects," might contain elements of a plot. Leave behind any inclination that the sheer star power of its cast - Ryan Phillippe, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Benicio Del Toro and James Caan - might make "The Way of the Gun" a sure thing. In fact, while we're talking of things you should leave behind when going out to see "The Way of the Gun," let me make one more suggestion: don't take any ticket money. It's just not worth it.

"The Way of the Gun" sounds fascinating. Longbaugh and Parker (Del Toro and Phillippe) are sworn enemies of doing right - it's brought them nothing but pain - so they set out to make some serious money. They kidnap Robin (Lewis), the extremely pregnant surrogate mother of a conveniently seriously rich couple and plan to hold her and the unborn baby for ransom. To complicate things, the parents can't call the police, because the money these men are after is about as clean as they are.

As plots go, this one could almost be engaging. Right up until McQuarrie overdosed on General Hospital. We have questions about the baby's parentage -- - -- is it Robin's? Is it the couple's? Is it the doctor's? -- - -- and Robin's parentage. We have a cadre of old Mob men bleeding all over the desert, a suicidal hit man, an abortion doctor turned obstetrician, bodyguards planning murders, bodyguards sleeping with their charges, doctors sleeping with their patients, a baby being born, people getting shot...

Lost? You're not alone. "The Way of the Gun" loses its own way somewhere during the opening - a senseless splash-action fight with some of the most obnoxious overacting ever seen. That this scene is followed by Longbaugh and Parker trying to make an "honest buck" by donating sperm - which facilitates what seems like a fifteen-minute diatribe on "fags" by Parker - was enough to poison the would-be action flick for me.

Sure, the movie has a few redeeming qualities. There's James Caan, for instance, playing the exact same role he's played in every movie he's been in. Hey, he does it well. He's joined, in my sympathies, by the doctor (Dylan Kussman) and... okay, that's it. Everyone else goes out of his or her way to do something so mean, so wrong or so annoying that, a month after the screening, I still hate him or her.

The scenery isn't bad, though; the sets portray a dirty 1940s kind of upper-class criminal grunge. Set mostly in southern California and Mexico, the desert scenes are effective for the Western-type shootouts McQuarrie seems to enjoy. He directs these scenes with surprising precision - so surprising, in fact, that the grand - at the end is anti-climatic. Or, will the professional bagman win? Will only one man be left standing? Is the movie over yet?

The shoot-'em-up scenes drench the movie with blood. This isn't artsy blood, and it isn't action blood. It's gratuitous blood. Worse than that, it's predictable blood. Everyone you think is going to die does. And they do it in a smeary red pool of gooey, graphic violence.

Beyond these features lie some subplots, some dialogue and the beauty of the body of Ryan Phillippe. McQuarrie does everything he can to destroy these. For example, there's the subplot that seems to revolve around the doctor and something creepy he did in Baltimore. What did he do? I don't know. Neither, I think, does anyone, as characterized by such witty repartee as "Remember what happened in Baltimore?" and "I saved you after Baltimore."

McQuarrie should have saved any energy spent on birthing those lines to nurturing his own movie. The plot is nonexistent, the violence is not only gratuitous but unentertaining and the characters are unsympathetic and barely human. The talent here is sorely misused and abused (think Ryan Phillippe writhing in broken glass and you're getting the picture). "The Way of the Gun," all told, is a bloody mess of a movie that has no rhyme or reason.

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