You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Stray Bullets’

Two teens are taken hostage by fleeing criminals in young director Jack Fessenden's debut feature.

James Le Gros, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, Asa Spurlock, Jack Fessenden, Robert Burke Warren, Erik Kraus, Roger Peltzman, Kevin Corrigan, Erik Kraus, Cally Mansfield, Fenner Micheline, Steve Heller.

Major allowances would normally be made for any movie made by a 16-year-old. But in the case of “Stray Bullets,” a polished first feature from teenager Jack Fessenden, fairly minor ones will suffice. Though this suspense drama about two small-town youths who run afoul of fleeing big-city criminals feels a couple story beats short of a satisfying whole, it’s admirably well-crafted within its mostly savvy limitations. The film opens Feb. 10 in 11 U.S. cities.

Fessenden is the son of actor-turned-busy indie producer and sometime writer/director Larry Fessenden (“The Last Winter,” “Wendigo”), who not only plays an onscreen role here but serves as DP. It’s also dad’s connections that doubtless coaxed a number of veteran performers he’s worked with in the past to join the project, and none of them treat this assignment as a favor-among-friends lark.

Ash (Asa Spurlock) and Connor (the junior Fessenden) are teen besties aimlessly kicking around their sleepy upstate New York neighborhood on a summer’s day — one somewhat enlivened when they get their hands on a paintball gun. Unknown to them, heading their way with some very real guns are three middle-aged hoodlums on the run from a job gone bloodily wrong in Brooklyn. Now driving north in a vintage Dodge Dart are the badly wounded Charlie (Fessenden Sr.), stammering nice-guy Dutch (John Speredakos) and not-at-all-nice Cody (James Le Gros).

While Charlie has been the group’s boss for more than 20 years, his increasingly desperate condition allows hot-tempered Cody to seize the reins. When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the trio have to decide what to do — including whether to risk getting medical help for Charlie — and opinions among them sharply differ. Thus when the two boys reluctantly show up at a trashed trailer home that Ash’s father (Robert Burke Warren as JT) has tasked them with cleaning, they discover it already has some visitors — armed and dangerous ones not at all happy to have additional company.

It’s at this midpoint, when the young protagonists are taken captive, that the film gets more interesting, even as it begins to fall short of its potential. “Stray Bullets” was conceived as a half-hour short, and by its underwhelming fade-out, it becomes apparent that the young Fessenden didn’t develop his ideas quite enough to sustain a full-length feature. The hostage situation is compelling, but apart from one jolting moment, it doesn’t create as much tension or unpredictability as one might hope for. The most notable narrative twist — revealing that one small-town character here has a preexisting relationship with the fugitives — comes late and raises many intriguing questions, virtually none of which are answered. The film swiftly shifts into an action mode, then abruptly ends after a semi-successful stab at a stylized-shootout climax.

The teen leads are OK, but they’re not given enough character detail considering the amount of time we spend with them before the plot turns. (In particular, their relationship with their parents — and JT’s relationships with everybody — are implied sources of conflict that are given no further attention.) The adult performers, who also include Kevin Corrigan as a pursuing hitman, do a better job filling in the blanks of otherwise stock characters. Pa Fessenden is particularly good as a figure whose scrappy, sardonic personality is only amplified by excruciating pain and looming mortality. He also does a fine job with the widescreen lensing, his first feature DP gig since some very early noncommercial directorial projects in the 1980s.

Indeed, “Stray Bullets” is so nicely turned in its technical and design departments — including the young writer/director’s original score — that the ultimately somewhat undernourished scenario feels like more of a minor letdown than a major failing, with a result that is confidently entertaining if unmemorable. Clearly, anyone who can pull this much off at 16 (Fessenden’s age when the film was shot) has a promising future ahead of them.

Film Review: 'Stray Bullets'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Feb. 8, 2017. Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: A Screen Media Films presentation of a Glass Eye Pix presentation of a Fessypix production. Producers: Larry Fessenden, Jack Fessenden, Beck Underwood.

Crew: Director/writer/editor: Jack Fessenden. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Larry Fessenden. Music: Jack Fessenden.

With: James Le Gros, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, Asa Spurlock, Jack Fessenden, Robert Burke Warren, Erik Kraus, Roger Peltzman, Kevin Corrigan, Erik Kraus, Cally Mansfield, Fenner Micheline, Steve Heller.

More Film

  • Mindy Kaling photographed by Victoria Stevens

    Mindy Kaling Created Her Own Opportunities (and Doesn't Plan on Stopping)

    Over the course of two hit sitcoms, a couple of best-selling books and some scene-stealing turns in Hollywood blockbusters such as “Ocean’s 8” and “Inside Out,” Mindy Kaling has cultivated an image as a kinder, gentler and more relatable star than most. On Instagram or Twitter, where she routinely shares parenting anecdotes and restaurant recommendations, [...]

  • Jimi Hendrix sound check Monterey Pop

    Film Constellation Adds ‘Show Me the Picture’ to Berlin Market Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

    London-based sales and financing house Film Constellation has added Alfred George Bailey’s feature documentary “Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall” to its Berlin market slate, ahead of the film’s SXSW premiere. Submarine Entertainment is handling distribution in North America. The film charts the life of American photographer James Joseph Marshall, whose work [...]

  • 'Sink or Swim,' 'Custody' Lead Race

    'Sink or Swim,' 'Custody' Lead Race for France's Cesar Awards

    French actor-turned-director Gilles Lellouche’s “Sink or Swim” and Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody” lead the race for this year’s Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, with 10 nominations each, including best picture and best director. “Sink or Swim” (“Le Grand Bain” in France), a star-driven dramedy about a men’s synchronized swimming team, world-premiered at [...]

  • Face to Face with German Films

    Face to Face with German Films Unveils the Six ‘Faces’ of 2019 (EXCLUSIVE)

    Teutonic promotional organization German Films has announced that its annual initiative supporting German filmmaking internationally, Face to Face With German Films, will focus on actors and actresses as the campaign enters its fourth year. Six of Germany’s leading thesps – Maria Dragus, Christian Friedel, Luise Heyer, Jonas Nay, Jördis Triebel and Fahri Yardim – will [...]

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    'Green Book' Lands Post-Oscars Theatrical Release in China

    Fresh off Monday’s news that it had picked up five Academy Award nominations, best picture favorite “Green Book” is set for more good luck. The film will hit Chinese theaters on March 1, the first weekend after the Oscars, which fall on Feb 24, Alibaba Pictures announced on its official social media account. The film [...]

  • Fan Bingbing

    Chinese Stars, Entertainment Companies Pay $1.7 Billion in Back Taxes

    Chinese film and TV stars and entertainment companies have forked over an additional $1.7 billion (RMB11.7 billion) in taxes in the wake of last summer’s scandal surrounding actress Fan Bingbing and a subsequent government crackdown. The figure was announced late Tuesday by China’s State Tax Administration. Chinese authorities launched a probe into the tax affairs [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Film News Roundup: AMC, Regal to Leave 'Roma' Out of Best Picture Showcases

    In today’s film news roundup, “Roma” will not be in the best picture showcases at AMC and Regal, “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” gets a release and SAG-AFTRA’s David White has a new appointment. ‘ROMA’ SPURNED AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas are leaving Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” out of their upcoming annual showings of the contenders for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content