The first three minutes of “Weapons” are easily the most memorable part of the movie. The opening credits play out over slow-motion footage of a character eating a cheeseburger, and even though the action is mundane, the scene is dreamlike, almost hypnotic. And then, a horrible act of violence takes place, and the camera doesn’t flinch from one bloody second of it. It’s a cheap shot, in more ways than one, because nothing in the rest of the movie comes close to being this provocative or shocking.
As the title suggests, the film shows the cycle of gun violence as it plays out among a group of teens living in what I would describe, kindly, as lower-class suburbia. The plot is non-linear, and the movie is divided up into several segments, each with its own black and white title card. Comparisons to Tarantino are far too obvious, and not really deserved. “Weapons” bears more of a resemblance to the films of Larry Clark, with its hopeless teens who just want to get high and get laid, and don’t care much about the consequences.
The first segment features three white trash homeboys sitting around smoking dope. One of them has a black eye from a fight at a party the previous night, so the three immediately rush out to settle the score. One of them shows off the shotgun he keeps in the trunk of his car. But before he gets a chance to use it, they’re abruptly the target of gun violence themselves, and by the end of the segment, one of them is dead.
The second segment is about Reggie (Nick Cannon), who finds out his younger sister was raped at a party the night before. He and his friends immediately set out for revenge, planning to shoot and kill the accused rapist. After a bizarre and bloody encounter with a gun dealer (Arliss Howard) in a hotel room, Reggie finally gets his hands on a gun. But when he finds his target, Reggie can’t go through with it. Alas, as the segment ends, we learn the cycle of violence will simply find a way to go on without him.
The promotional materials would have you believe that all of the movie’s segments turn out to be connected in a surprising way. But it’s pretty clear by the end of the second segment how everything is interrelated. The remainder of the film is concerned with the events of the party the previous night, rewinding the clock several times to let us see those events from multiple viewpoints. Eventually, the Tarantino and Larry Clark comparisons fall by the wayside when one realizes this is a teen version of Gaspar Noé’s “Irreversible”, complete with a brutal rape, a non-linear story, and various other similar plot points I won’t spoil. Suffice to say, both films feature a scene where a guy is beaten in the face with a fire extinguisher.
This is writer-director Adam Bhala Lough’s second feature film, and he obviously has talent and lots of potential. The shakycam, handheld approach never distracts from the story, and the naturalistic (some might say amateur) performances and improvised dialogue only add to the vérité feel. While the movie was on, I found myself completely absorbed in it. The problem is, the moment it was over, all I thought was, “Okay… next?”
Replaying events from multiple viewpoints is a powerful storytelling tool, with the potential to deliver big surprises and twists. But that never really happens in “Weapons”. Each time the same events play out, we learn something new, but it’s never a revelation. The movie never tries for anything great, memorable, or profound. Ultimately, it’s an unremarkable few days in the lives of unremarkable (and unlikable) characters.
Like many an indie film, the acting is all over the place, from first-timers to seasoned professionals like Arliss Howard, who evidently thought this was a big Hollywood movie, because his acting style completely clashes with the laid back tone of the rest of the cast. And Nick Cannon clearly doesn’t have the chops to pull off a role like this. As he cries over his little sister being raped, it couldn’t be more obvious that his tears are a special effect courtesy of the makeup guys. This story may have been better served by an entire cast of unknowns.
“Weapons” premiered in competition at Sundance back in 2007, where it earned a lot of negative reviews, as well as a multimillion dollar distribution deal. That deal apparently fell through, because the movie is just now arriving on a direct-to-DVD release. That’s about what this film deserves, and it may be a worth a rental, at least, to those with sufficiently low expectations.
Adam Bhala Lough (director) / Adam Bhala Lough (screenplay)
CAST: Nick Cannon … Reggie
Paul Dano … Chris
Mark Webber … Sean
Riley Smith … Jason
Regine Nehy … Sabrina
Jade Yorker … Mikey
Brandon Smith … James