- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Isn’t it nice when a comedy is actually funny? A low bar, for sure, but I’ve been disappointed far too many times to name. Hence it was a joy to behold “Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?” a slyly humorous modern take on the “Lysistrata,” the classical Greek comedy about a woman who leads a sex strike of Athenian women in order to halt a war.

Writer-director Matt Cooper’s film takes place in a small Texas town, where young Lance (Garren Stitt) and a pal play a prank with a firearm that results in much public damage — and, thankfully, no loss of life. With guns a way of life here, the womenfolk decree that enough is enough and come up with what they think is an ingenious plan: No sex for the menfolk until all the town’s guns have been scrapped.

What elevates Mr. Cooper’s film above being little more than a modern update of the Greek tale is his wicked sense of humor and his fully realized characters, who exist outside of their labels as plot devices and feel and act as real people. Andrea Anders ably anchors the film as Lance’s mother Jenna, whose tough-guy husband Glenn (Matt Passmore) is none too jazzed about the chastity charge his wife is leading in town.

A lesser film would have left it at that, but Mr. Cooper’s intelligent screenplay has Jenna not only holding out on bedroom antics, but in effect finding within herself a leader’s resolve she never knew was there. It’s a surprisingly smart stroke of writing in what, in lesser hands, would have simply hit the numbers of the plot with little other thought.

Furthermore, Jenna and Glenn also have a teenage daughter named Sandy (Katherine McNamara), whose one-year anniversary with her boyfriend, for which she has promised they will at last go all the way, happens to coincide with the town’s sex strike. Mr. Cooper inserts a rather true-sounding, but still humorous, scene where mother and daughter discuss the birds and the bees — a bit behind schedule but no less relevant (or heartfelt).

The supporting cast is uniformly strong, including SNL vet Horatio Sanz and Fernanda Romero as his sexpot wife Connie. But the diamond ring goes to Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman as Maxine, a potty-mouthed town elder who makes much use of one of Amy Schumer’s favorite terms.

The laughter comes not from forced situations or cheap gags but from people behaving as they would do so under such circumstances — even in such a ludicrous situation. The film ratchets up the humor as the sex strike goes on, and both the men and women in town have more and more trouble going without the pleasures of the flesh. One of the best sequences has the women taunt the men to hilarious results.

Comedies are difficult business, but Mr. Cooper has given us a well-realized exercise that lands on its feet and delivers laughs and smiles all the way through. As comedies must, it resolves a bit too easily, but however it might have ended, I still would have been smiling.

Rated R: Language, near-semi-nudity and suggestive material.

Opens Friday at Regal Ballston Common Stadium 12 in Arlington, Virginia.

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