Sunday, December 14, 2014


"CSI" regular George Eads plays a snake-bitten Las Vegas gambler with a knack for getting himself knee-deep in trouble in "Gutshot Straight" (* OUT OF ****) named Jack. Eads makes a convincing but hopeless nobody, and he looks nothing like the sympathetic crime scene investigator that he portrays on the CBS-TV television series. Instead, he portrays the kind of character who you'd neither want to meet nor hang out with because he is a loser. Happily, "Death and Cremation" director Justin Steele surrounds him with a veteran cast of familiar tough-guys, including Stephen Lang, Vinnie Jones, Steven Seagal, and Ted Levine, that give the action a modicum of substance. Steele imbues this brooding 85-minute melodrama about a charismatic loser with a creepy, mysterious film noir flavor.

Down and out, owing just about everybody in Sin City, Jack (George Eads) runs into an older guy, Duffy (Stephen Lang of “Avatar”), at a strip club who makes him an appetitizing proposition: "How'd you like to make some dollars, enough dollars to keep you at the adult table for a long, long time." Naturally, our misbegotten protagonist could use plenty of dough. Taking Jack home to his palatial residence, Duffy tries to persuade him to make love with his wife, May (AnnaLynne McCord of "The Transporter 2"), but the scrupulous Jack displays considerable reluctance. Apparently, Jack doesn't like being told what to do. A brief physical struggle ensues between Jack and Duffy while May watches from the pool. During the fracas, Jack shoves Duffy, and Duffy's head strikes an object and the impact kills him. Jack didn't plan to murder Duffy, and he is pretty upset at the accidental turn of events. May and he stuff Duffy's corpse into the trunk of a Maserati, and Jack wanders off the next day in the brutal heat of Vegas to sleep it off in his Volvo that he cannot get to crank up. Jack is such a woebegone guy with so many problems that it is easy to see why an actor would love to fill in the gaps and play him. Ultimately, he isn't the kind of character that an audience wants to commune with for the length of any movie.

Later, Jack encounters Duffy's scummy brother Lewis (Ted Levine of "Silence of the Lambs") who is a notorious loan shark. Lewis proudly shows Jack his prized possession—the car that May used secretly to dispose of Duffy's body—and we learn that Lewis is an obnoxious jerk, too. Interestingly, Lewis thinks that Duffy has gone away on a trip. A suspicious Jack leaves Lewis after Lewis mentions his name; Jack never told Lewis his name so he doesn't trust him. On his way out, Jack runs into May. She confides in Jack that she buried Duffy's body in the desert. Eventually, Lewis shows Jack a tablet that contains a video of Jack at Lewis' house. This is how Lewis knew Jack's name. Anyhow, Lewis knows everything about Jack, his mountain of gambling debt, and his estranged wife and daughter. Surprisingly, Lewis isn't put out that Jack had something to do with his brother's death. He wants him now to kill May, and he is prepared to use blackmail to get him to do it. May shows up at Jack's sleazy motel, and Jack assures her that he will take care of Lewis. We learn that Duffy was a terrible husband who basically kept May in a metaphorical cage and watched her constantly when he wasn't out drinking and whoring. Jack arranges a visit with Paulie (Steven Seagal of "Exit Wounds") through another disreputable man that he owes money, Carl (Vinnie Jones of "Snatch"), and Paulie agrees to help him. He hands Jack a revolver that fires backwards and tells him to give it to Lewis. Jack and Lewis tangle in a gritty fistfight while treacherous May observes the brawl. May gets the drop on Jack, and she tries to kill him. Naturally, the revovler backfires and blows her away. Afterward, Paulie kills Lewis, and they warn Jack to clear out of town.

Gutshot Straight" occurs primarily in Las Vegas casinos and at an exotic house with a swimming pool and flaming torches. As mesmerizing as the action is, nothing really happens in this pedestrian 85-minute melodrama stocked with despicable characters. Jack finds himself in trouble for a murder that he didn't mean to commit, and he flees to his friends that he owes money and gets them to polish off the villain. The action comes full circle. Although it contains polished production values, "Gutshot Straight" essentially qualifies as a potboiler. Stephen Lang and Ted Levine spend more time on screen than either Steven Seagal or Vinnie Jones. Seagal fans won't like it that the paunchy Seagal has what amounts to a cameo. The DVD commentary is interesting and contains insights into the production. This is a one-time watch it only movie.

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