- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

''The Way of the Gun" gives us a sad-faced Juliette Lewis as a kidnapped surrogate mother named Robin. She has been hired to nurture the heir desired by a sinister big shot, Hale Chidduck (Scott Wilson), whose icy and devious spouse, Francesca (Kristin Lehman), is concealing a dynastic agenda of her own.
The principal characters are the young mercenaries who abduct Robin and hold her for $15 million in ransom, an arbitrary sum at today's prices. Whimsically called Parker and Longbaugh, the original last names of the outlaws immortalizaed as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, these desperadoes are played by Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro, respectively.
Introduced as penniless rowdies outside a nightclub, they decide to pick up loose change as blood and semen donors. (The movie's real horror element is the implied threat to national blood and semen resources.) While waiting at the clinic, they hear about Robin's gig and formulate a caper that keeps the rest of the movie safely preoccupied with treachery and gunfights.
The first feature directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Academy Award for writing "The Usual Suspects," "Gun" proves a more portentous and less diverting fable of criminal obsession. I'm willing to believe Mr. McQuarrie when he argues that it was a struggle to insist on a fatalistic tilt. Evidently, it would have pleased the distributor if Parker and Longbaugh could have gotten away with everything, confirming their promise as surrogates for ultraviolent fantasy-seekers in the audience. At the same time, insisting that he who lives by the sword must perish by the sword doesn't elevate "The Way of the Gun" significantly above thrillers without the ghost of a conscience.
As a practical matter, the recurrent gunfights remain an indispensable, overblown source of spectacle. More blank ammo is exchanged than I can recall witnessing since Clint Eastwood's "The Gauntlet." After a while, one begins to wonder if any of the hard guys can hit anything, apart from plaster and shabby motel furnishings.
As long as a gentlemen's agreement protects Robin from a stray bullet, the fates of the rival gunmen can be contemplated without a pang of regret. While hiding out with their captive, Parker and Longbaugh become targets of Chidduck bodyguards Jeffers and Obecks, portrayed by the potentially dynamite team of Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt. That payoff awaits some other movie in which their roles are a trifle less taciturn and expendable.
When Jeffers and Obecks falter, a middle-aged mercenary, Sarno, appears in the venerable form of James Caan. After trying to reason with the interlopers, he unleashes a squadron of over-the-hill shooters, permitting Mr. McQuarrie to intercut Robin's blessed delivery with the last showdown, supposedly staged at an outpost below the Mexican border, which may or may not reinforce affinities with "The Wild Bunch."
Mr. McQuarrie contrived to keep all his cards on the table while misleading spectators of "The Usual Suspects." He seems to be playing it cagey on insufficient grounds in "Gun," which doesn't have much to be deceptive or portentous about. There are some prize chunks of would-be epigrammatic or hard-boiled dialogue. I was suitably bemused by "I can promise you a day of reckoning that you'll not live long enough to forget," presumably an example of the Paradoxical School.
Finally, Mr. McQuarrie answers his own profound question, "Do you believe in karma?" with the following bitter evasion: "Karma's only justice without the satisfaction." Cue another shootout, please.

One out of four star
TITLE: "The Way of the Gun"
RATING: R (Sustained graphic violence and frequent profanity; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity; plot revolving around a pregnant young woman whose life is imperiled)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

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