Monday, February 7, 2000

Things Have Changed

Hallelujah, I'm ready/I'm ready, I can hear the voices singing soft and low/Hallelujah, I'm ready, Hallelujah, I'm ready to go..."

It takes a pretty special lady to get me up and out in public these days. But anyone who knows me knows such a source of inspiration surely exists. Sandra Bullock's new movie, Gun Shy, is a high energy, highly entertaining effort.

Ms. Bullock made a splash this week with the news that a Roger Corman directed movie, Fire on the Amazon, she made early in her career contains a steamy love scene that has gained the re-release of the film a NC-17 rating- the dreaded rating given to commercial films that otherwise would have earned the kiss of death "X" rating. Bullock said that although various parts of her anatomy are selectively covered with duct tape, the scene in question shows her making love in a way different than is shown in most mainstream cinema. This news isn't of the good variety for those of us who find Sandra appealing in another sense.

Gun Shy obviously owes a lot to Pulp Fiction both in its style, and in its insightful writing. It has Tarantino written all over it, mixing black comedy with poignant asides, and all it lacks is a pontification about whether or not a foot massage is appropriate between friends.

Watching the movie reminded me of an end of a relationship many years back. It was a relationship where I felt a connection and understanding that I hadn't felt before, and in a way I haven't felt since. The person on the other side confessed something to me that I haven't ever been able to shake. "Happiness is such a prevalent feeling in our society," this person said. "And yet it is something I've never felt." It was a startling revelation and at the same time it was equally as frustrating as I knew I wasn't the person that was going to ever reach her and be able to change that. As we live through the dawn of the new millennium, it doesn't take a great deal of effort to see the number of unhappy people out there. There is lovely moment in Gun Shy when the characters are asked why the status of their jobs is so important to them. The only thing they can think of is that their jobs define them and help them feel that they are contributing something. It is an awareness that is as sad as it is truthful. All many of us ultimately want is something simple and unattainable like a place on the ocean.

Liam Neeson stars as Charlie Mayo, a burnt out undercover cop with frayed nerves who witnesses his partner get killed by the mob as he is lying on top of a pile of ripe watermelons. Charlie is so shaken by the murder that his confidence is as shot as his stomach is unsettled. Since his current assignment calls for him to serve as the middle man between a depressed wannabe Italian gangster with a violent temper, and an equally disturbed pair of Colombian drug dealers, it isn't a good time to be off the top of his game. He initially seeks help through group therapy which provides for many of the movie's most humorous moments.

The story is so organic and original that you're never quite sure where the movie is going. Many laughs are the uncomfortable type as vulgar violence erupts from the lighter moments. This uneasy juxtoposition is best demonstrated through a peeing contest that ends in a rather painful conclusion. Oliver Platt is absolutely delightful as Fulvio Nesstra, the Italian mobster, who early on nearly cuts off the hand of his neighbor who he suspects stole the sports section from his newspaper. By the end of the movie we see Fulvio has much in common with Charlie, and the sympathy created truly says a lot about both the skill of the writing, and Platt's wonderful ability to create a complex character.

Bullock, who produced the movie, has a minor role as Neeson's love interest. The two meet as her character, Judy ("the beauty") Tipp is giving Charlie an enema to alleviate some of the constant bowel troubles he is enduring. Love is after all, often born out of life's most painful moments.

Bullock's considerable charisma simply shimmers throughout her brief moments on the screen. As she asks Charlie if what he really wants is "eternal bliss" we really begin to for the first time to understand what the movie really is about. Judy helps settle Charlie down by her kindness and quirkiness. She doesn't believe in "orthodox medicine" throwing out Charlie's prescribed anti-depressants. She realizes some troubles can't be solved by merely taking a pill. She even teaches Charlie to relax through gardening. (Vegetables play an intricate part of the plot- Fulvio's desire is to grow a perfect tomato and is chastised by his unhappy wife for being the only Italian who can't grow red tomatoes. The first deal between the uneasy partners nearly goes down as the Colombians notify the others that they are offended by the purchase of soy beans- it's an insult to them.)

The ultimate message of the movie is spiritual as Judy helps Charlie take the baby steps back to mental balance. She assures him that God must be on his side- he wasn't killed with his partner after all- and her faith in him bolsters his belief in himself and things beyond. There is a quiet moment in the film when Judy shares a Buddhist parable with Charlie about a man chased to the edge of a cliff by a tiger. Tumbling over the edge the man clings to a branch only to see a pack of tigers below. He then notices the branch has a lone beautiful strawberry hanging on it and he grabs it and eats it.

Gun Shy reminds us like that parable life is about living in the moment. The movie is full of small episodes to treasure as Neeson slowly finds his way to enlightenment.

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