Getting fat is a big deal for an actor. It’s not a big deal for your dad the insurance salesman that he’s sporting a spare tire by the time he’s 50, but when your entire fame and fortune was built around taking your shirt off while shooting a gun and/or seducing hot babes, it becomes dicier. Dudes who were always fat never have this problem: you just end up being a Sydney Greenstreet or Charles Durning. When you’re Val Kilmer, though, getting fat changes everything.
Kilmer got fat for Oliver Stone’s ill-fated Alexander; unlike his Method brethren Robert DeNiro and Christian Bale, no one gave a shit. He won no Oscars and stayed fat, and suddenly his career as an A-list leading man was pretty much done. He became the embodiment of fat and washed up, but here’s the thing: he seems okay with it. Kilmer is playing the badass way more than he ever did and his star doesn’t seem to have diminished in the eyes of the people who would go see Val Kilmer movies for Val Kilmer in the first place. His metric fuckton of Val-Kilmer-holding-a-gun vehicles were terribly popular when I worked at the video store, all things considered. I remember when Kilmer was a big deal: he was the Batman of my youth (unfortunately), he was the motherfucking Saint. Now he’s… well, he’s not.
All of this leads to the inaugural Why Does This Exist flick, one in which Val Kilmer is not even the lead. So enticing is the presence of Kilmer that he captures all of my attention with regards to Gun, which is actually a 50 Cent vehicle that the rapper-turned-actor also wrote. Kilmer and Fiddy apparently met while shooting the post-Katrina cop thriller Streets of Blood (a definite WDIE contender) and got along so swimmingly that they reteamed for this one. After all, there’s bound to be lots of points in common between a middle-aged Christian Scientist who lives on a ranch in New Mexico and a bullet-riddled former drug dealer who’s turned his former transgressions into a multi-million-dollar brand.
Gun opens with a shootout in one of those cushy movie clubs that are all red velvet and scantily-clad ladies bumping and grinding. The shootout is perpetrated by none other than Richie Taylor (50 Cent) and his crew, who evidently had a bone to pick with the people inside. Rich is a gunrunner, you see, and this particular occupation offers 50 the opportunity to talk about guns incessantly. His first real scene in the flick finds him trying to convince a dude to buy guns by spouting a long, indecipherable list of features and gun types that’s clearly been painstakingly researched. If nothing else, Gun lives up to its title. It is wall-to-wall gun porn – when people aren’t looking at guns, they’re seductively getting their lips around the sexy, sexy vernacular of weaponry.
From the get-go it’s pretty obvious that 50’s trying to write himself a gangster character that’ll go down in history with the Carlito Brigantes and Tony Montanas of this world. Richie’s ice-cold, calculating, irresistible to women and men alike. In an early scene where he meets up with underworld associate Angel (played by Kilmer) in a bar; he recounts the story of how the two met and everyone in the room (including Kilmer) look at him with a passion bordering on unbridled lust. (In the next scene, of course, he has a music-video-style sex scene complete with several closeups of his ass.) Later on, one of his men regales the bar with the story of how young Richie busted another kid in the head with a TV when they all lived in a group home as childrn as 50 sits there wistfully. The film goes to great lengths to establish the fact that this is not a man to be fucked with almost entirely through scenes where Richie doesn’t do anything. The one exception is a scene in which 50 hits an unidentified fat guy hanging upside down from the ceiling in the balls with a baseball bat; the fat guy’s identity is kind of hazy but it hardly matters anyway since Kilmer puts a bullet in his head and then the dude shits himself. That this is about the only interesting thing that the esteemed Mr. Jackson writes in the entire flick says something about both of us.
The man has no flaws; even his ruthless killing is explained late in the game in a hilarious bit of psychological shorthand in which he explains that he deals illegal, military-grade weapons because his parents were killed when his criminal father’s gun jammed. Unfortunately for 50, he hasn’t written the operatic classic he thinks he has and he has nowhere near the screen presence required for the outsized character he portrays here. You have to admire the cojones of a guy who got shot in the face and then decided that he should sing and act but 50 Cent has absolutely no screen presence. He gives himself all of these urban Confucius quips and delivers them in the same marble-mouthed monotone throughout. (On the flip side, he makes reference to guys surviving after getting shot several times… and then goes on to be shot several times and survives. Crazy meta.)
Richie gets his guns from a sexy, mysterious femme fatale (the one in the aforementioned ass-centric sex scene) who tells him that the cops are hot on his tail. As the noose tightens around Rich’s neck, he pulls a couple of bad moves (including killing prospective client Danny Trejo, doing a bangup job of peppering his lines with random Spanish words and reacting appropriately to squibs going off on his body in vintage Trejo fashion) and brings the police closer and closer to bringing the whole thing down. Someone’s informing the cops – and the information is coming from the inside. Who could it be? Could it be one of his friends? Could it be the fat, washed-up B-list actor standing next to 50 Cent on the cover? The suspense is palpable!
No straight-to-DVD crime movie is complete without the grizzled middle-aged actors portraying the cops on the gangster’s tail (now look at the cast list again, put two and two together and don’t say I didn’t warn ya). Here they’re portrayed by reliable genre mainstays James Remar and Paul Calderon. They allow 50 Cent the priceless opportunity to have other characters wax poetic about his badassedness while also acting as the social and moral conscience of the film. The two cops spend a lot of movie just sitting around talking about the increase of crime in the inner city and the recession and other talk radio platitudes. Besides its pretensions of being a classic crime thriller, Gun also posits itself as socially-conscious drama. 50 Cent attempts to have his cake and eat it too, making his character the coolest, most stone-cold badass he can muster while simultaneously having the staid, washed-up good guys explain that what he does is wrong in excruciatingly literal ways. Even 50 eventually gets in on it, stating that ‘‘It’s hard out there, yo. It’s like the Reagan era. People are hungry. People starving, man. You gotta do what you gotta do.’’
It all ends in the reliable old warehouse wherein everyone gets shot, 50 gets to wield a gun that’s basically the size of a bike, John Laroquette inexplicably (I mean, not that his career is going so well that he’s above it, but still) shows up as the baddest of bad guys (and racist, to boot) and 50 Cent gets a long speech as he lies dying in a pool of blood about how he’s the same as everyone else. Glorification of the criminal lifestyle is certainly nothing new but the tenacity with which 50 Cent wants to show that his criminal character isn’t actually a bad guy is rather commendable. Most people just make the characters likeable; he makes the character tell people he’s likeable. As for Kilmer (whose presence made me shiver with excitement at the prospect of a three-course hambone meal), he’s… pretty okay. He looks fucking ridiculous with his Bret Michaels hairdo and roly-poly frame but he’s actually fairly restrained here. It must be said that anyone would look great next to 50 Cent’s monotony. At a brisk 83 minutes, however, Gun is at the very least over before it does too much damage.
So why does it exist?
Hubris, mostly. As a straight-to-DVD film starring a rapper, Gun is fairly competent. Oh, don’t get me wrong: it’s awful. But the bar isn’t set very high. It’s certainly a couple steps ahead of the glut of Snoop Dogg / Albert Pyun collaborations from the turn of the century. Despite a cast that screams of half-assedness, it seems to have a decent budget and is competently directed by Soul Plane auteur Jessy Terrero. It’s so dull and generic that it seems the only reason it has to exist is to satisfy the ego of its star/writer/producer. 50 Cent has a lot of money, and if you want some of it for yourself, you’d better practice saying yes to the dumbest shit. It’s jam-packed with 50 Cent at every corner; the soundtrack is even filled with a bunch of his less memorable jams (including one with the rather appropriate lyrics ‘Bullets bullets bullets / Break your bones / Bullets bullets bullets / Crack your domes’). Its attempt at social relevance mirror whatever platitudes the man shits out on various Twitter rampages. It’s got none of the insanity or B-grade thrills it promises but, on the bright side, the ending promises a sequel! There’s more where that came from!