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Thursday, March 9, 2000

High anxiety

Movie: Gun Shy

Posted on Thu, Mar 9, 2000 at 4:00 AM

***
Our Rating: 3.00

After 18 years working as one of the DEA's top undercover agents, Charlie (Liam Neeson) wants nothing more than to retire to a simple, stress-free life and an "ocean view." Things are not that simple.

First, he must broker a deal between Fidel Vaillar (Jose Zuniga), scion of a Colombian drug family, and hot-headed mob triggerman Fulvio Nesstra (Oliver Platt), to launder money via the stock market. Both men have something to prove to demanding patriarchs, and Charlie is there to take advantage of their vulnerabilities.

The problem is, Charlie's got the fear. Things went terribly wrong on his last job, and now he's certain that the lethal Fulvio will look into his eyes and see that he's a liar. Desperate for someone to talk to, Charlie turns to group therapy and ends up regaling his fellow patients -- milquetoast middle managers -- with his life-or-death tales.

But his fear has physical manifestations as well, literally tying Charlie's intestines into knots. This painful situation sends him into the comforting arms of the unlikely woman of his dreams, "enema queen" Judy Tipp (Sandra Bullock).

That writer-director Eric Blakeney can use the lowest form of comedy -- the potty joke -- to illuminate the internal struggles of a character says a lot about "Gun Shy," a film which successfully embraces contradictions. Obviously constructed from the spare parts of other movies (not just gangster films, but screwball comedies), it nonetheless achieves its own peculiar brand of sprightly humor.

Even though Sandra Bullock is the film's producer, "Gun Shy" belongs to Neeson and Platt. A towering presence in numerous historical epics, Neeson is also a surprisingly agile comedian, while Platt transforms his seemingly amoral Mafioso into a beautifully realized study in comic pathos.

In his witty debut film, Blakeney finds the common thread between very different male characters: dissatisfaction. In a sense, they're all working undercover, taking on roles they didn't choose in order to get ahead. But, like Charlie, they also dream of escaping the stifling restrictions of their everyday lives and claiming their place in the sun.

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