Cashing in on the appeal of stars Mario Van Peebles and Christopher Lambert, “Gunmen” is a routine, vacuous actioner that tries to mix thrills with humor. Saddled with an uninvolving B plot, pic will be more popular in Europe, where Lambert is a marketable star, than domestically, and it may prove to be a better video rental than a bigscreen presentation.
Scripter Stephen Sommers, who last year wrote and directed “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” constructs a formulaic tale of chase and revenge that combines elements of both the action and Western genres. Cole Parker (Van Peebles), a N.Y. special forces agent working with the Drug Enforcement Agency, is sent to an unnamed South American country to confiscate the illegal gains stolen from a drug dealer who murdered his father.
The adventure begins when Parker busts out of jail Dani Servigo (Lambert), an offbeat outlaw who is supposed to know the site of the huge fortune. The two men , who bicker and play pranks on each other, are soon pursued by Armor O’Malley (Denis Leary), a ruthless killer, hired by drug lord Peter Loomis (Patrick Stewart) to halt Parker and recover the money that was snatched from him.
As written by Sommers and directed by Deran Sarafian, “Gunmen” suffers from serious storytelling problems: The violent se quences erupt senselessly without much attention to logic or continuity. Sarafian gives the picture an erratic, high-strung pace.
Van Peebles’ considerable acting talents are largely wasted on what’s basically a stereotypical, underwritten role; in most scenes, he’s allowed to utter no more than one sentence. Lambert, usually a bland action hero and trying to widen his limited range, lacks the necessary skills to pull off what’s intended as light and humorous dialogue.
Stewart, who’s been impressive in his TV work (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”), registers strongly as a physical presence but plays a cliched arch villain. As the tough, foul-mouthed villainess, Brenda Bakke is given an embarrassing sex scene that is meant to be amusing.
All the actors are burdened with inane lines and conduct: Lambert rolls his eyes with relish as he eats flies or bugs. The bloody battles — which include the requisite fist fights as well as the “novelty” of the comrades shooting each other in the leg — exist for no apparent reason other than sheer macho exuberance.
Production values, particularly Hiro Narita’s lensing around Puerto Vallarta, are proficient, though Bonnie Koehler’s editing is abrupt and lacks fluidity.
Mindlessly cartoonish, “Gunmen” lacks the expected frills and spiteful tension of a serviceable actioner.