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Sunday, June 4, 2017

FILM REVIEW OF ''UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS" (2017)

The lavish but loquacious vampire versus werewolf extravaganza in Gothic horror, “Underworld: Blood Wars” (*** OUT OF ****), doesn’t deliver as many bold, spectacular stunts either genuine or CGI as the previous four films in this supernatural series.  If you’re counting, “Underworld: Blood Wars” is number five in this British-produced series dating back to 2003 with the original “Underworld.”  One thing that can be said about this imaginative franchise is its fan-friendly approach.  Like “Underworld: Awakening,” “Underworld: Blood Wars” recaps all the skullduggery at the outset lest our memories have faded since the last clash between the vampires and werewolves.  “Blood Wars” offers a similar prologue that seems identical aside from a bit tacked on at the end.  Former television director Anna Foerster’s first film coughs up loads of exposition.  This creates obvious problems because she pauses the action for the leading characters to exchange dialogue galore. You know the characters aren’t chatting among themselves as much as they are uttering information for our eavesdropping ears.  “Last Witch Hunter” scenarist Cory Goodman and “Machete Kills” writer Kyle Ward give feuding factions a great deal to say.  American action movies don’t present half as much verbiage as Goodman and Ward have in “Underworld: Blood Wars.”  Indeed, a score card wouldn’t be out of the question to keep up with everything clear that they cover.  The boisterous, R-rated, battle sequences that ensue appear visually lackluster.  Instead of svelte Kate Beckinsale cavorting nimbly about in a black cat-suit with pistols blazing and Lycans dying, armies of vampires and werewolves equipped with body armor blast away at each other with assault weapons.  These cacophonous skirmishes are comparably bland and would seem more appropriate in a “G.I. Joe” actioneer.  At its best, the “Underworld” franchise resembles a swashbuckling spectacle rather than a military marching campaign.  Despite the plethora of dialogue and monotonous maneuvers, “Underworld: Blood Wars” boasts not only revelations about characters new and old but also narrative surprises and enhanced Lycan weaponry.

selene_blood_wars 
The opening recap brings us up-to-date on the “Underworld” franchise, specifically the complicated relationship between our 1000-year-old heroine Selene and her hybrid daughter Eve (India Eisley) who is virtually never seen unlike her introduction in the  the earlier installment “Underworld: Awakening” where she ripped apart Lycans.  Nevertheless, heroes and villains alike talk about the offspring of Selene and Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) constantly talk about or perform tasks related to Selene’s daughter. Anybody who hasn’t seen the earlier “Underworld” outings should know that after introducing the primary characters and their antagonists in the first two movies, the third film served as a prequel, with Rhona Mitra as Viktor’s daughter Sonja instead of Kate Beckinsale as the Lycan killing assassin Selene.  “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” (2009) was released after “Underworld” (2003) and “Underworld: Evolution” (2006).  The third film provided the origins of events and characters that occurred in the two earlier epics.  The vampires and Lycans in the “Underworld” franchise do not adhere entirely to the venerable Universal Studios prototypes of the “Dracula” and “Wolf Man” franchises.  The Universal monsters owed their origins to supernatural intervention, while a virus spawned the “Underworld” vampires and Lycans.  This explains why Selene as a vampire cannot shape-shift into the bodies either a bat or a wolf like Count Dracula.  This also justifies scenes where vampires show up as reflections in mirrors.  Mind you, prolonged exposure to the sun is still fatal to the vampires as much as the ultra-violent bullets that the Lycans load into their assault weapons.  Anyway, with Michael gone missing, Selene isn’t as excited about being a vampire constantly eluding Lycans.  Selene’s latest Lycan adversary, the aggressive but enigmatic Marius (Tobias Menzies of “Casino Royale”) isn’t as interesting as some of the aristocratic vampires in the surviving Eastern Coven.  Marius wears an occupational sneer like a mask, but he lacks the intimidating stature of Selene’s earlier adversaries.  Marius sends out men to capture Selene and extract from her Eve’s whereabouts.  Even after he has Selene at his mercy, Marius suppresses his incendiary wrath because she has told him the truth.  Simply enough, she doesn’t know where Eve has fled.

Meantime, David (Theo James of “Allegiant”) and his suspicious father Thomas (Charles Dance of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) return.  In “Underworld: Awakening,” David died, but Selene resurrected him. She inserted her bloody fist into his chest and massaged his heart back to life.  These movies deserve credit for conjuring up some wholly outlandish escapades.  This time father and son are allowed sanctuary in the impregnable Eastern Coven castle.  An Eastern Coven leader, Cassius (James Faulkner of the “I, Claudius” television mini-series), brags that his vampire coven has stood fast against the despicable Lycans for fifteen centuries.  Little does he realize that the Eastern Coven has its own quislings, and one of the worst serves alongside him on the elders’ council, Semira (Laura Pulver of “Edge of Tomorrow”), who conceals her treachery beneath a deceitful smile.  She insists that Cassius and the council grant amnesty to the outcast Selene, now relentlessly pursued by vampires and Lycans both, and persuade her to tutor their latest generation of werewolf-killing, death-dealers so the Eastern Coven can repel future Lycan incursions.

Occasionally, “Underworld: Blood Wars” borders on convolution.  The larger-than-life death scenes are memorable because our heroes and heroines vanquish the villains with style to spare.  At one point, after triggering hundreds of bullets into each other, Marius and David howl in fury, and all the slugs they have riddled themselves with catapult from their wounds.  Forester stages this encounter is kinetic gusto.  Later, the scheming Semira wields a sword against David who has more than enough reason to skewer this wicked wench.  Apart from the new villains, the albino Nordic Clan with their striking white coiffures and fascinating cultural rituals, one involving a mysterious kind of waterborne mummification, are introduced in the third quarter.  “Underworld: Blood Wars” compensates for its dreary fireworks and surplus of dialogue with exemplary death scenes and compelling revelations.

FILM REVIEW OF ''UNFORGETTABLE" (2017)

Gals, looking for a ladies’ night out movie? Look no further than “Unforgettable” (*** OUT OF ****), a melodramatic but entertaining psycho-Barbie, homicide saga. Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl co-star as two dames duking it out over one dude.  First-time director Denise Di Novi and scenarists Christina Hodson of “Shut In” and David Leslie Johnson of “Orphan” have forged a tense, occasionally erotic, psychologically driven thriller like “Play Misty For Me” (1971), “Fatal Attraction” (1987), “Single White Female” (1992), “Obsessed” (2009), and “When the Bough Breaks” (2016).  Sweet and innocent from the start, Rosario Dawson plays Julia Banks, the good girl of the two.  She is far more na├»ve than her troubled past would lead us to believe.  Basically, she amounts to a damsel-in-distress fighting for her life against Katherine Heigl’s diabolical, homicidal, divorcee, Tessa Connover.  If anything is ‘unforgettable’ about “Unforgettable,” the casting of Katherine Heigl as the blond spawn of Satan qualifies as ‘unforgettable.’  Two years ago, in the amusing, straight to video shock comedy “Home Sweet Hell” (2015), Heigl carved up three villains with power tools and a samurai sword who sought to blackmail her horny, philandering husband.  Heigl delivers a tour-de-force performance in “Unforgettable.”  Moreover, as a testament to her thespian gifts, she never blinks as she devises several audacious acts of outrage.  Heigl fans will savor her sinister performance.  Of course, Heigl won’t land an Oscar nomination for being cast against type, but it reflects another facet of her persona.

“Unforgettable” opens at a Malibu police station. An African-American detective and a uniformed patrol woman amass plenty of incriminating evidence against Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson of “Kids”) for the murder of Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides of “Quantum of Solace”), her sadistic ex-boyfriend. Earlier, Vargas had been under a restraining order to stay away from her.  Julia cannot believe that the authorities may charge her with his murder.  She remembers stabbing Vargas in the thigh before she fled in hysteria from her house.  During their momentary but violent clash, Vargas slammed Julia’s face into a kitchen cabinet, and she brandished a knife.  Apparently, Vargas labored under the mistaken notion that Julia wanted to resume their relationship where they left off prior to the restraining order.  a digital literary magazine. After obtaining a restraining order against Vargas, Julia met a former Merrill Lynch stockbroker, David Connover (Geoff Stults of “Wedding Crashers”), who has invested everything in a microbrewery.  The two plan to marry, and Julia relocates to Malibu where David and his six-old daughter, Lily Connover (newcomer Isabella Kai Rice), reside in serenity.  Trouble arises because neither told Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl of “27 Dresses”) about their plans.

As it turns out, Tessa Connover stands between Julia and her ex-husband David, and she abhors the idea that another woman will supervise her daughter.  Initially, Tessa appears reasonably hospitable when she welcomes Julia.  Beneath her false mask of affability, Tessa smolders with incendiary rage.  If ever English playwright William Congreve’s oft-paraphrased line “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” applied to a character, it applies to Tessa. Tessa is a fiend.  Tall, statuesque, her blond hair parted down the middle and draping like shorn curtains at her shoulders, Tessa is a model of physical perfection in outfits that fit her like a sheathe.  She resembles a trophy wife, but she is an overbearing witch.  She insists on having everything done to her specifications, and Julia can do nothing right, particularly with her impressionable daughter.  Not long after the two women encounter each other, things sour between them.   admits to Julia that she destroyed her own marriage when she cheated on David.  Now, David has custody of Lily, but the court has allotted Tessa a couple of days each week with Lily.  Tessa treats Lily like a captive, brushing her hair as if she were stropping a razor. When Lily warms up to Julia, Tessa cuts her hair severely and then blames everything on Julia.  Interestingly, Tessa suffered a similar fate as Lily because her own heartless mother, Helen (Cheryl Ladd of “Purple Hearts”), treated Tessa with the same affection that a drill sergeant reserves for recruits.  Tessa’s life revolves around a mirror, and Helen still expects her daughter to live up to the mirror.

Although she has lost David, Tessa won’t admit to herself the marriage couldn’t be salvaged.  She launches a campaign against Julia that takes on the magnitude of a full-scale war.  First, she steals Julia’s cell phone, imports the information to her own computer, and sets up a Facebook pal for Julia.  Julia represents one of the few people alive today without a Facebook page, and she never realizes the extent to which Tessa invades her privacy.  Tessa conducts a background check on Julia, and she learns about the restraining order against Michael.  After she creates Julia’s Facebook page, Julia arranges a reunion between Julia and Michael.  She impersonates Julia on the phone, so Michael will imagine that Julia has absolved him of all his sins. Meantime, Julia doesn’t have a clue about anything that the nefarious Tessa is plotting behind her back, such as sneaking into David’s house and stealing Julia’s wedding ring that once belonged to David’s grandmother.  Tessa has even managed to make Julia look foolhardy in David’s eyes when Julia loses track of Lily during a community fair.
“Unforgettable” maintains a steady head of steam before it wobbles somewhere during its third half-hour.  Di Nova and her writers bring the conflict between Julia and Tessa to boil about an hour into “Unforgettable,” and Julia begins to feel the heat. Nevertheless, the movie boasts a slam-bang finale.  Unquestionably, “Unforgettable” deserves a straight-to-video sequel as Di Nova’s film concludes with such a sizzle. “Unforgettable” ranks as a hybrid chick flick/horror movie with more than enough moments of suspense and intrigue.  Katherine Heigl looks like she had a blast playing a notorious vixen, and she is fun to watch as she manipulates everybody around her.

FILM REVIEW OF ''LIVE BY NIGHT" (2017)



Two-time Oscar-winning writer & director Ben Affleck of “Good Will Hunting” and “Argo” has helmed an above-average, old-fashioned, Prohibition Era gangster epic “Live by Night” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) with himself as star that bears greater resemblance to Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984) with Robert De Niro than Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (1972) with Marlon Brando.  At the same time, Affleck has tampered with the violent, empire-building gangster film formula.  Mind you, “Live by Night” isn’t strictly traditional in its depiction of gangsters.  Instead of machine gun massacres in the urban canyons of a northern metropolis, “Live by Night” stages machine gun massacres at luxury resort hotels amid the scenic splendor of rural southern Florida.  Like the antihero that Affleck portrays with considerable style, charm, and restraint, “Live by Night” doesn’t abide by all gangster movie rules, particularly the tragic ending.  Nevertheless, crime still doesn’t pay for the protagonist.  As in most gangster movies, the mobsters count on avarice, treachery, blackmail, and betrayal to achieve their infamy.  Affleck’s armed and dangerous anti-hero, however, displays neither the aggressive pugnacity of Edward G. Robinson in “Little Caesar” (1931) nor does he behave like James Cagney’s trigger-happy hoodlum in “The Public Enemy” (1931.)  Instead, he imitates Robert De Niro’s Jewish gangster David 'Noodles' Aaronson in the Leone masterpiece.  Affleck’s Irish-American hooligan Joe Coughlin knows when to say ‘no’ and abandon the business before his rivals riddle him with bullets to kingdom come.  My only complaint—and it constitutes more of a quibble—is the 2 hours plus running time. This chronicle about a self-proclaimed ‘outlaw’ who ascends from the ranks of blue-collar, unaffiliated thieves and emerges as the white-collar chieftain of a mob-supervised, multi-million-dollar enterprise doesn’t exactly lunge off the screen.  Affleck allows things to develop gradually and steeps the logistics of crime in atmosphere galore as well as memorable characters.  Strong villains make the best movies with their notorious skullduggery.  Faithfully adapting the second novel in Dennis Lahane’s Coughlin series, Affleck tangles with three unforgettable dastards. 


The son of an incorruptible Boston Police Deputy Superintendent, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck of “The Town”) refuses to accommodate his father, Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson of “Gangs of New York”), when it comes to being a law-abiding citizen.  Joe survived the devastating trench warfare of World War I in France as a U.S. Marine while men around him perished by the dozens on the battlefield.  He has come home to Boston with nothing but utter contempt for the politicians who sold out the troops at the international treaty negotiation.  Joe vows never to take orders again.  Things don’t pan out exactly as our hero had anticipated.  Initially, Joe and two masked accomplices knock over an illegal, high-stakes poker game with a paid-off insider, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller of “American Sniper”), who knows her way around Boston.  Eventually, one of Boston’s most notorious gangsters, Albert White (Robert Glenister of “Safe Conduct”), learns that Joe has been raiding his venues.  White insists that our protagonist join his gang and use his skills for something more appropriate to his talents.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the jealous White, Joe has been sneaking around behind White’s back with his mistress Emma.  Mafia crime boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone of “Angel with a Gun”) summons Joe and asks him to kill White.  Adamantly, Joe refuses to attach himself to the Italians.  Maso threatens to inform on Joe if he doesn’t eliminate White. 
Meantime, Joe plans a big bank robbery so Emma and he can flee to California with some capital. The robbery goes sideways.  Three policemen die trying to nab Joe and his accomplices.  Eventually, White catches up with Joe after Emma betrays him.  White brutally beats Joe up.  He is poised to finish him off when Thomas Coughlin rolls up with the Boston Police in tow.  Thomas arrests Joe, but he convinces a harsh judge prosecute his son on lesser charges since Joe’s accomplices killed the cops.  Furthermore, Thomas informs Joe that Emma died when her getaway car plunged into the river.  Joe sweats out forty months behind bars in the Charlestown State Prison.  After his release, Joe offers to work for the Pescatore family, and Maso dispatches him to Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, to handle their rum-running enterprise.  No sooner has Joe set up shop than the evil White dispatches not only his own henchmen but also hooded KKK gunmen to make life miserable for our hero.  Joe creates an enormously profitable operation for Maso.  Nevertheless, he doesn’t abandon his yearning to wreck vengeance on White for what he did not only to him but also Emma.

“Foxcatcher” production designer Jess Gonchor, “Tree of Life” costume designer Jacqueline West, and “Forrest Gump” set decorator Nancy Haigh has painstakingly recreated both the glory and the squalor of the Prohibition Era.  The gangsters attire themselves lavishly in posh suits with fedora-style hats, while their dames doll themselves up with equal magnificence.  The gangsters cruise around in vintage cars of the period, and their henchmen wield that indispensable weapon of the day: the .45-caliber, Thompson submachine gun with drum magazines rather than stick magazines.  Indeed, Affleck has preserved virtually all the elements of the classic gangster movie during the Depression about illegal rum-runners.  After fate cheats Joe with Emma’s sudden death, he gets involved romantically with a gorgeous Cuban lady, Graciela Suarez (Zoe Saldana of “Star Trek Beyond”), who participates in the business of selling illegal rum with her brother.  “Live by Night” doesn’t dwell only on the gangsters and their illicit business, but also in the lives of the supporting characters, particularly a young woman (Elle Fanning) who suffered from the adversity of heroin addiction and later becomes an evangelist to protest vice of any kind.  The cast is superb, and nobody gives a bad performance.  Despite its leisurely, slow-burn pace, “Live by Night” manages to present the exploits of gangsters in a setting and manner that few gangster movies have, especially with its lukewarm finale.

FILM REVIEW OF ''GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY" (2017)



“Super” writer & director James Gunn took moviegoers for an irreverent, interplanetary joyride, peppered with pop culture references, in “Guardians of the Galaxy” back in 2014.  Happily, Gunn’s sequel “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2” (**** OUT OF ****) qualifies as just as impressive with several surprises.  If you haven’t seen “GoTG, Vol. 1,” then you may have problems putting both the swashbuckling characters and their outlandish backstory into context in this imaginative, science-fiction, follow-up saga.  Good sequels always dig deeper into the original characters and conjure up newcomers. “GoTG, Vol. 2” reassembles the same quintet and scrutinizes them in greater detail.  Peter Quill, ostensibly the Guardians’ leader, catches up with his enigmatic sire, Ego, and father and son surprise each other with their goals during the second act.  We learn that Ego has been searching the universe for his long, lost son.  Later, Yondu observes astutely about the grandiose Ego: “He may have been your father, Quill, but he wasn't your daddy.”  This father and son connection yields the ultimate surprise, too, but discretion prevents me from divulging specifics.  The peculiar relationship that Quill has forged with Yondu Udonta, the extraterrestrial space pirate who abducted Quill from Earth after the lad fled from the hospital where his cancer-stricken mom died takes on an added dimension.  No character changes as much in “GoTG 2” as Yondu.  He evolves from a lowlife villain to an individual of integrity. Meanwhile, sibling rivalry keeps Quill’s quasi-girlfriend Gamora locked into a never-ending feud with her jealous sister Nebula.  Nebula hates Gamora with a passion because their evil stepfather Thanos preferred Gamora over her.  Smutty-mouthed Rocket Raccoon remains as obnoxious as ever, but his bad-tempered attitude thaws during the third act.  Good sequels send off the characters onto exciting new adventures against different villains.  The Guardians are summoned to a remote corner of the cosmos again.  The new aliens—the Sovereigns—constitute a petulant people with little sense of humor.  When the Rocket infuriates them, the latter pursue the Guardians with a vengeance until greater powers interfere. 
The last time we saw the Guardians, the Nova Corps had cleared them of all crimes and provided them with a refurnished version of his spaceship "The Milano.”  The arboreal, sentient-like, extraterrestrial Groot (Vin Diesel’s voice) had sacrificed himself to save his companions, but Rocket Raccoon scourged up a surviving twig and has planted it.  As “GoTG, Vol. 2,” unfolds, an arrogant race of gilded humanoids known as the Sovereigns have employed our motley crew to protect their priceless batteries from an enormous but absurd-looking trout with thrashing tentacles and thousands of thorny teeth.  During this hilarious opening credits gambit, the roguish Star-Lord (Chris Pratt of “The Magnificent Seven”), green-skinned Amazon Gamora (Zoe Saldana of “Colombiana”), blue-skinned hulk Drax (Dave Bautista of “Spectre”), and pugnacious Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper’s voice) tangle with this cartoonish Cthulhu-thing atop a lofty platform that resembles an electric razor where the batteries are housed.  During this far-fetched fracas, Baby Groot dances to a tune from Star-Lord’s mix tape—ELO’s “Blue Sky”--oblivious to any peril the goofy trout-squid poses while the Guardians struggle to defeat their nemesis.  The scene is clever because Gunn choreographs this blockbuster action scene with Baby Groot in the foreground rather than the contentious Guardians!  Afterward, the grateful Sovereigns reward our heroes with nothing less than Gamora’s deceitful sister Nebula.  No sooner have our heroes proven their nerve to the Sovereigns than they find themselves in trouble with them.  The contemptuous Rocket has taken it upon himself steal some of those valuable batteries.  The incensed Sovereigns deployed a drone fleet to annihilate the Guardians.  Conveniently, Peter Quill’s biological father Ego (Kurt Russell of “The Hateful 8") intervenes and saves them from the Sovereigns.  Ego invites Quill, Gamora, and Drax to accompany him to his planet, while Rocket, Baby Groot, and Nebula stay behind to repair their crashed spacecraft.  

Meantime, the haughty Sovereign Queen Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki of “The Great Gatsby”) hires arrow-whistling Ravager chieftain Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker of “The Belk Experiment”) to track down the Guardians.  What Yondu doesn’t realize is a perfidious faction within his gang of smugglers has been plotting mutiny.  Yondu’s grotesque lieutenant, Taserface (Chris Sullivan of “Imperium”), heads this uprising.  After they catch up with Rocket, Baby Groot, Nebula, the insubordinate Ravagers turn on Yondu and lock him up with Rocket.  Nevertheless, Yondu and Rocket aren’t idle behind bars for long because Baby Groot helps them to escape.  Mind you, Yondu was already up to his ears in trouble with the rest of the Ravagers and their commander, Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone of “Rocky”), who turned against him for kidnapping Peter Quill in the first place.  If you saw the original “G0TG,” you know Star-Lord tricked Yondu when he relinquished the Orb.  The wily Star-Lord replaced the Infinity Stone that had been in the Orb with a grinning troll doll.  Yondu had payback in mind when he sold his services to the Sovereigns, but then everything went sideways for him.  Nevertheless, once Rocket, Baby Groot, and he escape, they eliminate their adversaries. 

The major revelation of the “Guardians” sequel concerns the character of Ego.  Kurt Russel looks like he had a blast playing this imperious Celestial being who is a manifestation of a psychedelic planet that Ego created for himself.  Basically, he is an amoral deity who behaves like the Greek god Zeus.  During their brief stint on the planet, Peter and Ego begin on friendly terms until Ego slips up and reveals something terrible that alienates Peter.  With its sumptuous CGI of alien galaxies and landscapes, “GoTG, Vol. 2” looks a hundred times better visually than its predecessor. If you enjoyed the greatest hits music in the original film, the sequel serves up even more memorable pop tunes and incorporates them into the psychology of the plot, too!  As the fifteenth entry in the Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe, the tongue-in-cheek “Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2” ranks as one of the best.

FILM REVIEW OF ''SMOKING GUNS" (2017)



An inexpensive but suspenseful crime melodrama with atmosphere to spare, first-time writer & director Savvas D. Michael’s “Smoking Guns” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) proves you can produce a widescreen film in only a handful of rooms with fewer than ten actors. The cast consists primarily of guys of various ages, and virtually no women except for an obese lady who accepts their wagers.  The original title of Michael’s movie “A Punters Prayer” served its purpose in the United Kingdom.  ‘Punter’ is British slang for people who bet on sports events.  American audiences would have been lost without something more simple and straightforward like “Smoking Guns.”  The chief problem is Michael never shows us any smoking guns.  We see a desperate man threaten other fellows with an automatic pistol, and we see a man seated in a parked automobile who fires an assault rifle and kills an innocent fellow.  At fadeout, we hear the discharge of an automatic pistol, but never does smoke curl off the barrel of any gun.  
An interesting animated brief appears at the beginning that depicts our protagonist Jack at home.  Conspicuously displayed behind his chair in this cartoon is a framed Sholom Aleichem quotation: “Life is a dream for the wise, A Game for the Fool; A Comedy for the Rich, and A Tragedy for the Poor.”  Nobody should be surprised with foreshadowing like this that “Smoking Guns” will prattle on philosophically about the problems of the human condition.  As Jack cruises to his destination, he swerves to avoid hitting a cat in the street, crashes his car into an iron fence, and cuts up his nose so that he resembles a boxer after a tough fight. 

A loquacious tale about hard-luck British gamblers, this expository laden epic spends most of its time in a small betting parlor—Theta Bet Bookmakers, in London--where Jack Cameron (Tommy O'Neill of “Hoods n Halos”) is sweating out a long odds wager on the same horse to win three times.  The first thing that Jack utters is: “Gambling’s got nothing to do with making money.  It’s about winning and losing.”  As in the crime movies of both Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie, the protagonist provides narration from his perspective throughout the action, and he justifies his “bet of my life” wager.  “I’ll risk the fall, so I can know how it feels to fly.”  Later, Jack observes in greater depth, “I have the right to risk my own life if it means the chance of saving it.  I’m chasing more than a castrated bet like a two-to-one favorite.  I need more than a stay of execution.  I have to have the strength to go all the way if I want to cut the shackles of contentment and take the walk to glory and success.”  Jack describes this bet as one that would change his life and make it worth living.  “If this wins,” he contends hopefully, “everything I’ve ever done in my life up until this point has become a stepping stone in the journey of achievement.” 

Jack hangs out with fellow gamblers, Greek native Yian Papas (Andreas Karras of “Into the Blue”); a dim-witted young man, Ian Fairbairn (Jamie Crew of “Rocky Road”), and Paul McVeigh (Dexter Fletcher of “Cockneys vs Zombies”), and later he encounters an former cocaine dealer, Richard Holt (Daniel Caltagirone of “The Beach”), who prompts a fight that leads to gunplay at fadeout.  Jack confides in Yian that he wants a gun, and Yiannis puts his friend in touch with an Albanian, Pipi Alban (Shezai Fejzo of “Undercover Hooligan”), who sells firearms.  

At this point, “Smoking Gun” shifts to another location, a night club called the “Shooting Gallery.”  The man that Jack spoke to about acquiring a pistol is playing poker.  Pipi leaves a poker game while another enthusiastic gambler, Ozan Sakaci (newcomer Dursun Kuran) has been taking a mobster, Bektash Ali (Mem Ferda of “Revolver”), for thousands of dollars.  Unfortunately, the bragging Ozan makes the fatal mistake of antagonizing Ali about his losses.  Ali becomes so aggravated with Ozan that he circles the table and stabs Ozan to death with a knife while the other players watch without interfering.  Strangely enough, apart for the gun dealer in this scene, nothing that happens here or afterward that has any bearing on Jack’s story.  Later, Yian will approach Ali about something that Ali has stuffed into the trunk of his car.  Actually, Ali has stashed the bundled up remains of Sakaci in his car for disposal.  Yian inquires ignorantly about the mysterious bundle, and Ali explains that he has bought a rug for his girlfriend.  Yian knows that Ali is married and cautions him about this extra-marital relationship.  Afterward, Michael has nothing to do with Ali and his fellow poker players.  This little scene develops atmosphere galore, and the outcome with regard to how they dispose of Sakaci’s winnings is surprising.  No, Ali doesn’t reclaim his loot.

“Smoking Guns” boasts strong dialogue and characters, and doesn’t wear out its welcome at 93 trim minutes.  Jack warns Ian about Richard Holt who might take advantage of him and exploit his “anal virginity.”  Principally, the film suffers from its shortcomings.  Apart from the poker game scene which could have been omitted, there is a scene involving con artists who sell a laptop computer to poor Ian.  He shells out cold, hard currency for the laptop.  However, there is no laptop in the case that they hand him, and the swindled guy who walked into their trap is as dim-witted as they come.  Sure, the scene is amusing, but it is like a toss-off joke.  One of the dramatic high points occurs after Jack has won two bets and is angling for a third.  The people who own and operate the betting parlor try to persuade our hero to sell out for thirty grand, and Yian assures the betting lady that he will convince Jack to take her up on her offer.  Despite some flaws, “Smoking Gun” ranks as an above-average opus.