Sunday, June 4, 2017


An inexpensive but suspenseful crime melodrama with atmosphere to spare, first-time writer & director Savvas D. Michael’s “Smoking Guns” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) proves you can produce a widescreen film in only a handful of rooms with fewer than ten actors. The cast consists primarily of guys of various ages, and virtually no women except for an obese lady who accepts their wagers.  The original title of Michael’s movie “A Punters Prayer” served its purpose in the United Kingdom.  ‘Punter’ is British slang for people who bet on sports events.  American audiences would have been lost without something more simple and straightforward like “Smoking Guns.”  The chief problem is Michael never shows us any smoking guns.  We see a desperate man threaten other fellows with an automatic pistol, and we see a man seated in a parked automobile who fires an assault rifle and kills an innocent fellow.  At fadeout, we hear the discharge of an automatic pistol, but never does smoke curl off the barrel of any gun.  
An interesting animated brief appears at the beginning that depicts our protagonist Jack at home.  Conspicuously displayed behind his chair in this cartoon is a framed Sholom Aleichem quotation: “Life is a dream for the wise, A Game for the Fool; A Comedy for the Rich, and A Tragedy for the Poor.”  Nobody should be surprised with foreshadowing like this that “Smoking Guns” will prattle on philosophically about the problems of the human condition.  As Jack cruises to his destination, he swerves to avoid hitting a cat in the street, crashes his car into an iron fence, and cuts up his nose so that he resembles a boxer after a tough fight. 

A loquacious tale about hard-luck British gamblers, this expository laden epic spends most of its time in a small betting parlor—Theta Bet Bookmakers, in London--where Jack Cameron (Tommy O'Neill of “Hoods n Halos”) is sweating out a long odds wager on the same horse to win three times.  The first thing that Jack utters is: “Gambling’s got nothing to do with making money.  It’s about winning and losing.”  As in the crime movies of both Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie, the protagonist provides narration from his perspective throughout the action, and he justifies his “bet of my life” wager.  “I’ll risk the fall, so I can know how it feels to fly.”  Later, Jack observes in greater depth, “I have the right to risk my own life if it means the chance of saving it.  I’m chasing more than a castrated bet like a two-to-one favorite.  I need more than a stay of execution.  I have to have the strength to go all the way if I want to cut the shackles of contentment and take the walk to glory and success.”  Jack describes this bet as one that would change his life and make it worth living.  “If this wins,” he contends hopefully, “everything I’ve ever done in my life up until this point has become a stepping stone in the journey of achievement.” 

Jack hangs out with fellow gamblers, Greek native Yian Papas (Andreas Karras of “Into the Blue”); a dim-witted young man, Ian Fairbairn (Jamie Crew of “Rocky Road”), and Paul McVeigh (Dexter Fletcher of “Cockneys vs Zombies”), and later he encounters an former cocaine dealer, Richard Holt (Daniel Caltagirone of “The Beach”), who prompts a fight that leads to gunplay at fadeout.  Jack confides in Yian that he wants a gun, and Yiannis puts his friend in touch with an Albanian, Pipi Alban (Shezai Fejzo of “Undercover Hooligan”), who sells firearms.  

At this point, “Smoking Gun” shifts to another location, a night club called the “Shooting Gallery.”  The man that Jack spoke to about acquiring a pistol is playing poker.  Pipi leaves a poker game while another enthusiastic gambler, Ozan Sakaci (newcomer Dursun Kuran) has been taking a mobster, Bektash Ali (Mem Ferda of “Revolver”), for thousands of dollars.  Unfortunately, the bragging Ozan makes the fatal mistake of antagonizing Ali about his losses.  Ali becomes so aggravated with Ozan that he circles the table and stabs Ozan to death with a knife while the other players watch without interfering.  Strangely enough, apart for the gun dealer in this scene, nothing that happens here or afterward that has any bearing on Jack’s story.  Later, Yian will approach Ali about something that Ali has stuffed into the trunk of his car.  Actually, Ali has stashed the bundled up remains of Sakaci in his car for disposal.  Yian inquires ignorantly about the mysterious bundle, and Ali explains that he has bought a rug for his girlfriend.  Yian knows that Ali is married and cautions him about this extra-marital relationship.  Afterward, Michael has nothing to do with Ali and his fellow poker players.  This little scene develops atmosphere galore, and the outcome with regard to how they dispose of Sakaci’s winnings is surprising.  No, Ali doesn’t reclaim his loot.

“Smoking Guns” boasts strong dialogue and characters, and doesn’t wear out its welcome at 93 trim minutes.  Jack warns Ian about Richard Holt who might take advantage of him and exploit his “anal virginity.”  Principally, the film suffers from its shortcomings.  Apart from the poker game scene which could have been omitted, there is a scene involving con artists who sell a laptop computer to poor Ian.  He shells out cold, hard currency for the laptop.  However, there is no laptop in the case that they hand him, and the swindled guy who walked into their trap is as dim-witted as they come.  Sure, the scene is amusing, but it is like a toss-off joke.  One of the dramatic high points occurs after Jack has won two bets and is angling for a third.  The people who own and operate the betting parlor try to persuade our hero to sell out for thirty grand, and Yian assures the betting lady that he will convince Jack to take her up on her offer.  Despite some flaws, “Smoking Gun” ranks as an above-average opus.

No comments: