As a comic spin on the action/heist genre, “Handgun” resembles a cross between Hal Hartley’s “Simple Men” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.” Whitney Ransick’s low-budget feature directorial debut is technically uneven, but its sharp dialogue and superlative performances, particularly by Treat Williams, should insure it a place on the festival circuit. Additional post-production work on the editing and sound might increase chances for theatrical release.
Wounded during a robbery that goes awry, Jack McCallister (Seymour Cassel) escapes with half a million in payroll booty, which he stashes in a locker. But as soon as the news gets around, a gallery of dubious characters, headed by McCallister’s two sons, set out on a desperate hunt for the stolen cash.
Like “Simple Men,””Handgun” spins an intergenerational tale of a criminal father and his two strange but endearing sons. McCallister’s elder son, George (Williams), is a violent thief who’s as quick with words as he is with his gun.
Michael (Paul Schulze), his baby brother, is an elegantly dressed, small-time con artist.
Estranged for years, the two brothers form an uneasy alliance in hopes of retrieving their father’s money. The gimmick is that before dying after a shootout with Earl (Frank Vincent), a ruthless gangster from his past, their father secretly revealed one crucial clue to George and one to Michael.
Realizing that they each possess indispensable but partial info about the loot’s location, the siblings are compelled to work together.
The intricate labyrinth of kidnaps, escapes, chases and betrayals would do any action pic proud. But following the model of “Reservoir Dogs,” Ransick also knows that the only way to treat such familiar turf is by investing it with fresh perspective and shrewd humor — as a spoof of machismo, tough guys, dimwitted cops and family ties. Ransick’s deadpan humor mixes idiosyncratic wit with laconic and cryptic dialogue.
Ransick never surrenders to the temptation of making his narrative weird for its own sake. Though the characters are not meant to be conventionally realistic , they always inhabit a recognizable urban locale, one populated by slapstick thugs and dumb cops who seem to appear whenever there’s the slightest intimation of action on the streets.
All three lead actors — Williams, Cassel and Schulze — are impressively in tune with Ransick’s quirky, offbeat sense of characterization.
But ultimately, “Handgun” belongs to Williams, who here renders one of his most accomplished performances.
Williams gives his deliciously wicked, amoral role sharp, fresh shadings, yet he always remains within character.
Tech credits, particularly Michael Spiller’s lensing (with additional photography by Jean de Segonzac), are adequate on what appears to be an extremely low-budgeted effort. However, sound mixing and editing suffer.
Despite these shortcomings, “Handgun” exhibits an unmistakably alert intelligence and cinematic sensibility that announce the arrival of an original American filmmaker.