Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
This week’s movie, Mean Guns (Netflix, $1.99 on Amazon), is not, by any definition, a good movie. It’s a straight up B-grade crime thriller/action flick, in which most of the myriad action set pieces are mediocre at best. It blatantly cribs from better movies despite the unfavorable comparisons that sort of behavior draws. Worst of all, it strives to be – or at least seem – pretentious, with thugs quoting Shakespeare out of context and glaring, overblown lighting dominating every shot.
And yet, despite under-rehearsed gun fights and half-baked attempts at gritty profundity, this movie still has…something. I first saw it maybe 10 years ago and when I noticed it on Netflix last week I was immediately excited to revisit it. It’s possible that’s simply nostalgia for a period in my life in which I had time to watch movies as forgettable as Mean Guns.
The effectiveness of a free-for-all deathmatch scenario always comes down to how much is invested in the various contenders, and whether the audience believes there’s a chance the identifiable protagonists could lose, or that someone from the periphery might win. Maybe that’s why I thought The Hunger Games was so dull. You knew Katniss was going to survive because she’s the sole Hero. Peta I couldn’t give a flying fuck about, but Miss Everdeen was sure to make it out. (Spoiler alert: The end of the third book reveals that Katniss is secretly a robot in love with Prim’s goat. YOU’RE WELCOME.)
In Mean Guns, while you automatically know who the three “main” characters are (a pair of opposed uber-hitmen, each a foil to the other, and your basic final girl) there’s a large number of ancillary characters and mini-alliances, many of which are unique and interesting enough to merit at least momentary consideration. You don’t ever think they’ll be the ones to walk out with the prize, but when they square off against the presupposed “heroes”, you’re honestly not sure who’s going to win. That right there is a teeny big magical and it’s what makes Mean Guns worth watching.
Added bonus: In 1997, Christopher Lambert’s Highlander fame was still more than enough to make him by far the biggest actor in this project. (Ice-T was well known but his movie cred was limited. He’s way more prominent as an actor nowadays thanks to Law & Order and being married to this.) I’d be willing to bet this movie was pitched with Lambert as the honor-bound stoic, Marcus. Instead, and probably at his behest, he wound up playing the twisted, bleach blonde wildcard, Lou. His over-the-top characterizations lack any real punch, but the casting choice alone is pretty neat and definitely adds to the uncertainty of who’s going to make it out alive.