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by: Michael Dequina

Sandra Bullock co-stars and produces; Liam Neeson, whose recognition is at an all-time high thanks to a certain sci-fi prequel, is the lead; character actor extraordinaire Oliver Platt plays Neeson's foil. An impressive assemblage of talent headlines Gun Shy, yet Buena Vista is only giving the film an initial regional release. It could be argued that the comedy's unconventional nature factored into that decision, but a more convincing argument would be that the film simply falls far short of its ambitions.

Neeson, in a rare comic role, gamely but awkwardly plays Charlie Mayo, a deep cover DEA agent whose legendary toughness has been broken after one particularly traumatic failed sting. Even so, he is assigned to bust mafia hitman Fulvio Nesstra (Oliver Platt) and Colombian drug dealer Fidel Vaillar (Jose Zuniga) in a complex money laundering scheme. The newly-spineless Charlie is deathly afraid of the famously hot-tempered Fulvio, but behind his cold stare hides someone decidedly less vicious.

Writer-director Eric Blakeney was obviously shooting for something along the lines of a previous Buena Vista release, Grosse Pointe Blank: a bit of the madcap tinged with a bit of the dark. The difference is that while the makers of that film aimed for smart, ironic humor, Blakeney contents himself with cheap physical and bodily function gags. Fidel's associate Estuvio (Michael DeLorenzo) gets a testicle shot off and walks strange for the rest of the film. An even more tiresome running gag is Charlie's stress-related illness; he cannot control his bowels, so every so often we hear his stomach grumble and see him run to toilets--not exactly what I'd call hilarious.

Charlie's health is what leads him to meet Judy Tipp (Bullock), a nurse for whom he quickly falls. This romantic angle never feels of a piece with the rest of Gun Shy, and the blame falls largely on Bullock. She is an easily likable actress, and she looks beautiful throughout the film, but she isn't right for the part. Not only does she have no chemistry with Neeson, she is a bit too generically sunny to belong in this darker world. Blakeney also holds some blame, for Judy isn't a very interesting character to begin with; she's just the token love interest.

In fact, the only truly interesting--and truly funny--characters in Gun Shy are the henpecked Fulvio, played marvelously by Platt, and his tough cookie wife, Gloria, played by a scene-stealing and unrecognizable Mary McCormack. One wishes that Blakeney had written a film that focused squarely on them, for Charlie's story and the half-hearted mystery revolving around who's really behind the shady deals never catches fire. Platt and McCormack ignite from the start, and one gets the sense that Gun Shy would have had they been the main characters.

RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)


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