The Bad Movie Report

Mean Guns

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Okay, we have been through the major warning signs of rough viewing roads ahead. We now know to grit our teeth and tighten all sphincters when we see one of the following: Nudity in the first AIIEEEEEEEE!!!scene. The first scene is a montage of stock footage. We see the monster in the first three minutes. The Medallion TV logo. Let us now add yet another warning sign to this Litany of the Lost - the words you see to the left, words which strike fear into the heart of low-budget aficionados everywhere: An Albert Pyun Film.

Greywizard, in his excellent Unknown Movies page, once opined, "Despite being such a bad director, Pyun has made a big impression in the B-movie world, so every B-movie site should deal with him at least once," although he meant deal in the sense of "Oh my God, quarantine the area and Warn the City at once!" After a decent first film (The Sword and the Sorcerer), Pyun has indeed befuddled the world with a steady stream of action films which, although not exactly terrible, certainly failed to satisfy on a number of levels*. Mainly they are mediocre to the point of boredom, with unmemorable characters shuffling from one loosely connected not-terribly-thrilling action scene to the next . An action film, by its very nature, needs to raise your blood pressure at least a little every so often. But Pyun films are the action films that make you reach for the remote, thinking, "Maybe The Learning Channel is re-running When Things Go Boom."

Now, all these hurtful things being said, let me proceed to thrill and amaze you: I actually liked Ice-T and friend.Mean Guns.

I first encountered Mean Guns very late one night on that great Repository for Movies Of Which You Have Never Heard, HBO. I missed the first 20 minutes, which means I missed all the opening exposition (and the tell- tale An Albert Pyun Film) and slipped right into the plot major. What caught my attention was Ice-T ...whom I always enjoy... and hey! Isn't that Christopher Lambert? As the movie progressed, two thoughts began to blossom in my head: Good Lord, this may be the stupidest movie ever made; and This has got to be an Albert Pyun film.

First of all, to get the first plot improbability out of the way, the World Crime Syndicate has, for some reason, built a brand new maximum security prison. The day before the prison is to be opened, one of The Syndicate's leaders, Moon* (Ice-T), gathers together a bunch of his toughs in the commons at the heart of said empty prison. Herded through a series of "out-of-town" muscle boys, at least one of which has fangs, the toughs must surrender their weapons. The expected party does not materialize; instead Moon reveals that each of the toughs has, in some way, betrayed The Syndicate. Uh-oh.

Where's Waldo?Instead of simply murdering the traitors, the bored Moon has decided on a more amusing (for him) way to take out the trash. First, the prison's gates are time- locked for six hours. Snipers have been posted to keep anyone from jumping the walls. The toughs are expected to do each other in - if, at the end of six hours, more than three are alive, everybody dies. As an added incentive, the last three standing get to split ten million dollars. In turn, The Syndicate gets to watch the party via the prison's closed-circuit TV system.

Moon then dumps a tub full of various guns into the commons. There is a general scramble for weapons, followed by a symphony of clicks and ratchets as the hoods discover that the guns are empty (for the briefest of moments, the camera speeds up, Keystone Kops-style as the criminals point and click uselessly at each other). Only then does Moon have his bully boys dump a tub full of bullets on the room below. And, oh, yes, a tub full of baseball bats. Then the carnage begins in earnest.

And that, my friends, is your plot. Yes, writer Andrew Witham has found a way to set up a 90 minute running gunfight.

Oh, all right, there are characters to deal with, too. There's Marcus (Michael Halsey), Moon's Yeah, this is the woman I want to take home to Mom.right-hand man, a world-weary killer, and the only participant allowed to keep his own gun; the obligatory black-leather-clad cold-as-ice blonde known only as D (Kimberly Warren); a deadly assassin well on the way to losing his mind, Lou (Christopher Lambert), who actually asked to participate in the festivities; and the comedy team of Hoss (Yuki Okumoto) and Crow (Thom Matthews), thugs who have been working together for years and say things like, "Have you read Sam Shepard? The Tooth of Crime? Fantastic stuff."

"I shouldn't be here!"There are also some characters who shouldn't be there: Con (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), an accountant who was unknowingly laundering money for Moon and was trying to turn State's Evidence (in fact, Con's catchphrase is, "I shouldn't be here!"); and a drugged-out prostitute named Barbie (Tina Cote), whose unsuspecting pimp brought her along just for the ride. These two characters provide most of the non-gunfire-driven drama: Marcus takes the decidedly unlethal Con under his protection as a means to possible redemption; Barbie seeks the protection of Hoss and Crow, then uses her ho' wiles to drive a wedge between the two friends so she can get the ten million.

Lest I should give the impression that Mean Guns is a sterling piece of cinema that you should rush right out to rent or buy, there are some downsides: The movie is at least twenty minutes too long - possibly even thirty. Lambert's character is approached in an annoyingly abstruse manner - we are Christopher Lambert makes  a new friend.sort of shown why he's nuts, but that - and whatever relationship Lou has to the little girl (Hunter Doughty) sitting outside in his car while the bad guys blow the crap out of each other - is still muddled and unclear to me after a second viewing. There seems to be a lot more guys getting killed than were actually in that room in the beginning... not to mention a lot more ammo being shot. Then there are other Pyun touches that really depend upon your tolerance for such things - the constant Woo rips*, the way that opponents can stand ten feet from each other and blaze away without hitting anything- and the bizarre bloodlessness of this whole enterprise. In Mean Guns, you only bleed if you're wounded. Even gangsters beaten to death with baseball bats do it very cleanly.

Quick!  Which John Woo film is this ripping off?

That's one reason Mean Guns must have been a very economical movie to shoot: very little clean-up. There's only one major location, and the movie-savvy will notice the same camera set-ups being used again and again. There's the actor fees, the stuntman fees, the gun rentals, the blanks, but since we see no bullets actually hit anybody or anything - and that prison should be riddled with holes by movie's end - there was no need to pay for squibs or blood bags, or the pyro, makeup and costume technicians that would normally be necessary in such a violent flick. I am filled with admiration.

There are lots of guns in this flick.To the positive: Michael Halsey as Marcus is very good. Tina Cote, in black microdress and heels, has a thoroughly vicious fight scene with a thug. I always like Ice-T, even when he's saddled with a ridiculous set of platinum teeth, as he is here. Lambert has always seemed to me an actor of limited range, but I enjoyed him here - although Lou feels and sounds just like Raydeen from Mortal Kombat, but without the lightning coming out the eyes. And come on: it's a feature-length gunfight!!!!

This might be a clue to my uncharacteristic liking of this film: as I have admitted elsewhere, I am a gaming geek, even at my relatively advanced age (after all, you're at a movie review site that devoted one whole week to a review of Resident Evil). Above all, I love first-person shooters like Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem and Turok. I have to play them all, no matter how bad (and trust me: I have played some crap). Mean Guns is sort of the cinematic equivalent of those games' loosely- motivated violence. It's like watching a multi-player deathmatch made flesh, with only the barest of nods to niceties like plot. Thus the movie found a friend in me.

Do I still feel this is one of the stupidest movies ever made? Hell, yes! Mean Guns does not have a Words fail me at this point.brain in its head, but it seems to realize this, and in fact embraces this condition with glee. The movie gets down on its knees in a big ol' pool of Stupidity and proceeds to roll in it. Moon is a big mambo fan, constantly playing his CDs over the PA system, so all the major gunfights are scored to happy-go-lucky salsa-drenched dance music, which just adds to the goofiness. When I found it on HBO, I wanted something that would allow my brain to coast in neutral for a time - Mean Guns fulfilled that need. If that is your aim, it may fulfill that function for you as well. But if you need anything else out of a movie - engaging plot, crackling dialogue, involving characters, anything at all - you definitely need to rent something else.

Good Lord, I can't believe I just gave an Albert Pyun film a good review. Maybe the Millennium is upon us, after all.


Gleefully stupid, bloodlessly violent.

- January 10, 1999


Cold Fusion Video