Jean-Luc Godard’s dictum that “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” is proven once again in “Love and a .45,” a down ‘n’ dirty, white-trash Saturday night special with a number of things going for it. Trimark release would have done just fine as a wild and woolly, drive-in-oriented exploitationer back in the 1970s, but the revival of the outlaw-lovers-on-the-run format is getting tired fast, and whatever modest theatrical B.O. pic generates will be superseded by a longer life on video.
Debuting writer/director C.W. Talkington trots out the familiar formula of two attractive kids one step ahead of the law and other criminals while racing toward the Mexican border. At the same time, pic is very much a post-Tarantino creation, with some riffs and comedy-laced violence obviously inspired by “Reservoir Dogs.”
Stick-up specialist Watty Watts (Gil Bellows) is a self-proclaimed “artist” at what he does, and tensely amusing opening sequence, in which he makes nice with a sweet kid at a convenience store he’s holding up, carefully positions him as a good guy among bad guys.
Another story entirely is Billy Mack Black (Rory Cochrane), a sky-high, lunatic biker and sometime partner of Watty who loses his cool during a subsequent robbery and kills the checkout girl, who happens to be the sheriff’s daughter. Watty finds himself forced to shoot Billy for his infraction, but he doesn’t finish the job, so while two debt-collector goons chase Watty and his girlfriend, Starlene (Renee Zelwegger), across Texas, Billy licks his wounds, waiting to get back at Watty.
Perhaps acknowledging that the desperate-young-lovers format is running out of gas, Talkington takes numerous detours into more scenic dramatic territory, some of them courtesy of Tarantino. Most notable is a sequence, both harrowing and funny, in which Billy is getting an elaborate tattoo etched onto his scalp when the goons walk in, push aside the artist and proceed to torture Billy by repeatedly plunging the tattoo needle into his noggin.
Even more bizarre is a homecoming wherein Watty and Starlene visit her parents, played by Anne Wedgeworth and Peter Fonda. Playing off his eternal 1960 s hippie image, the latter is a gas as a perpetually giddy druggie who can speak only with an electronic voice amplifier and, in a classic moment, gifts the young couple with some vintage 1968 acid as if he were giving them a rare bottle of Lafite Rothschild.
Pic is striking for seeming to be not only about, but actually of, the sleazy criminal milieu it depicts. Dialogue is lively and performances mostly sharp, including Bellows as the philosophical small-time criminal and Jeffrey Combs and Jace Alexander as the maniacal hit men. Model Zelwegger is pretty much standard-issue leading lady for this sort of thing.
By far the highlight is Cochrane’s crazed performance as the scumbag Billy. Cochrane, who was great as the skinny stoned kid in “Dazed and Confused,” has Billy bouncing off the walls even when he’s not indoors or tripping, and is endlessly inventive in portraying varying states of paranoia, rage, treachery, delirium and insanity. It’s a totally wild, hilarious and convincing characterization.
What holds the film back, however, in addition to its less than compelling schema and central relationship, is its utter lack of visual style. At a time when most pictures feature form almost at the expense of content, this one has an utterly undesigned look that’s virtually distinctive in its blandness.
Climax, which also reflects the influence of Tarantino by way of Hong Kong actioners, is rather blah.