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Trimark Home Entertainment presents
"Never rob a store with a loaded gun. That way no one gets hurt."
DVD ReviewGetting your feet wet in any profession requires paying your dues. While ordinary folk like you and me can laugh off memories of initial awkward baby steps in the glow of present day accomplishments, it's not as easy for movie actors. You see, their baby steps are preserved for generations to come via early film roles that they'd like to forget.
More often than not, you find an occasional gem while rummaging through a thespian's back catalog. Such is the case with Rene Zellweger's Love and a .45, a barely released 1994 effort which preceded her breakthrough role in Jerry Maguire. Although it won't make you forget her turn in the Tom Cruise megahit, it's certainly a quantum leap in quality as evidenced by the groan inducing surroundings of her debut as a lead performer: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.
Directed with zeal by first time filmmaker C.M. Tarkington, Love and a .45 tells the story of gentleman robber Watty Watts (Gil Bellows) who, outwardly, can be more intimidating than Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson combined. Yet, he doesn't have the heart to carry a loaded gun and endanger his behind-the-counter victims. In the wake of initial threats, Watty makes oddly charming small talk and in addition to letting his potential shooting targets live, often times he leaves behind a part of the loot as a way of saying thanks.
If only his contemporaries were as laid back and bullet free.
Hounded by a pair of redneck loan sharks wolves in Reservoir Dogs-type clothing as well as former fellow jailbird Billy Mack Black (Rory Cochrane)—who just oozes with serial killer potential—Watty is having a hard time settling down with his partner in crime, Starlene (Zellweger), a redneck boy's dream of a halter top queen. She longs for a relationship à la Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. But not in a Bonnie and Clyde way; that would be too derivative (at least in her mind).
Any hopes of trailer park domestication are splattered like the blood in a botched robbery attempt that Watty lets Billy Mack tag along on. Following the one-two punch of letting the counter girl take off his mask and stepping into security camera view, Billy violates the unloaded gun code of gentleman robbery, unleashing a hail of bullets. In quick succession, Watty manages to elude the authorities, thwart off Billy Mack and escape death by the hands of crooked probation officers. Before you can say Aloha Bobby and Rose, he's on the lam with Starlene in tow, to seek refuge at his potential in-laws.
Although not exactly brimming with originality and innovation, Love and a .45 is an enthusiastically performed and earnestly delivered piece of movie making. It's unapologetically low rent but that's part of its charm. Although it's been critically linked to films like Natural Born Killers, it reminded me more of mid-1970s drive-in cult classics like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Eat My Dust. While titles like those will never make a coveted American Film Institute clip reel, these cost cutter flicks and others like them have provided a solid training ground from which talent like Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel emerged.
Zellweger and Bellows are no exception. As Watty and Starlene, they exhibit more chemistry together than more highly touted movie couples of recent vintage; it's not surprising that both have gone on to more illustrious projects as of late. Zellweger is a comical dixie fried delight in her role and Bellows' laid back yet authoritative portrayal of Watty compliments her perfectly.
Appealing in a totally different vein is Rory Cochrane's over-the-top turn as Billy Mack. There's a fine art to overacting in a relishable way as to not turn off your audience. Cochrane (who was so good as Slater in Dazed and Confused) follows this adage to a "T" taking what could be a complete caricature of a thankless role and having a blast with it.
Nearly stealing the show from the young 'uns are a formidable trio of screen vets: Ann Wedgeworth and Peter Fonda as Starlene's beyond spaced out parents trying to maintain a rose colored 1960s mentality in an unemotional '90s world. Fonda is a riot in a wicked send-up of his Easy Rider persona as a voice-impaired hippy who lost his larynx via an LSD experiment involving the government (don't ask, watch). Wedgeworth's mannerisms and vocal inflections are so in synch with Zellweger's, you wonder if the two might actually be related.
And let's not forget the late, great Jack Nance of Eraserhead and Twin Peaks fame who adds icing on the cake with his turn as a roadside justice of the peace Watty and Starlene encounter in their travels. With just one befuddled trademark facial expression, Nance could incite as much laughter as a dozen Jim Carrey sight gags. Sadly, his role amounts to not much more than a cameo but true to his fashion, it's a piece of work.
Love and a .45 has the kind of appeal that I suspect that Oliver Stone and Terry Gilliam were gunning for in similar projects like the aforementioned Natural Born Killers and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While those films left me cold with their heavy-handed approaches, feeble scenarios and unnecessary gore, Tarkington's direction goes for a lighter, less violent touch with more colorful characters, resulting in a more satisfying experience. Additionally, I admired the way he slowly darkens the mood in the homestretch, setting up a very tense yet clever finale.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Released in the early days of DVD from the Trimark Home Video folks, the transfer lacks sharpness, and colors are not as vivid as I would have liked in spite of the film's low budget origins. It's a workman-like presentation if anything.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Although only a 2.0 mix, it's a vibrant, upbeat and clear aural presentation that serves the film's excellent soundtrack offerings (including music from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Mazzy Star and the Man In Black himself, Johnny Cash) in above average fashion. Dialogue is reproduced extremely well, with great clarity to boot.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French And Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by C.M. Tarkington, Gil Bellows, Darin Scott
Layers Switch: None
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsA modern day throwback to enjoyable 1970s drive-in fare, Love and a .45 is a surprisingly fun and effective feature giving us a chance to witness two future stars in Bellows and Zellweger, honing their craft.
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