In the mid ’90s, mainstream cinema and the direct-to-video market alike both experienced a significant change in their product — due largely in part to the worldwide success of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a movie that dared to toss out the traditional formula of ABC filmmaking in favor of a more nonlinear style of storytelling. Granted, any well-read (or well-viewed) disciple of film knows that Tarantino did not solely create the genre of hip features. There were numerous avant-garde artists before him — most of whom did it far better than he could have ever hoped to, but whose methods of moviemaking did not become as hugely popular in the fact that they simply weren’t as popular.
However, once Pulp Fiction hit theaters, it finally became “cool” to be hip like that. As a projectionist-turned-video-store-manager during the latter half of the ’90s, I saw one crappy rip-off after another infiltrate big screens and small ones everywhere — but mostly on the home video format. After all, it was a lot cheaper (and profitable) for distributors to just pick up some independently produced crapfest somebody else made a few years before that had more than likely been shelved because they were so awful and sell it to video stores at the outrageous retail cost videocassettes carried back then. Once DVD came around, the market was flooded further with even more cheapo crap — but by then, there were other successful movies for indie producers and distributors to capitalize on the popularity of.
Now, here we are in 2013 — nearly twenty years after Pulp Fiction was first released. And guess what? It’s happening all over again. And one of the recent culprits is a barely résumé-less fellow by the name of Michael Winnick, who wrote, produced, and directed a low-budget action comedy thriller in 2011 which has recently surfaced on home video as Guns, Girls and Gambling. Yes, that is seriously the name of the feature in question, kids. And, believe me, the tale is just as original and inspired as its title.
Boasting an all “star” cast including Christian Slater, Powers Boothe, Jeff Fahey and the always contemptible Dane Cook, Winnick’s ultra-hip-by-’90s-standards assault on the senses is about as predictable as you can get when it comes to being told in a nonlinear fashion, and as unoriginally linear as it tries way too hard to keep the story alive and well by adding a new twist every five minutes. Slater heads the mostly-expendable cast off as a guy named John Smith, who finds himself in a great big heap of trouble after he enters an Elvis competition at an impressive Native American casino somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. It seems the other Elvises (or is that Elvi?) he has unwittingly joined the ranks of — as played by Gary Oldman (Elvis Elvis), Tony Cox (Little Person Elvis), Anthony Brandon Wong (Asian Elvis), and Chris Kattan (Gay Elvis) — actually came to rob the casino of a priceless Native artifact.
Yup, he went the 3000 Miles to Graceland route here, folks. And it really says a lot when you stop to realize how much better of a movie 3000 Miles to Graceland truly was once you suffer through even the first couple of minutes of Guns, Girls and Gambling. Anyway, now our antihero Mr. Smith has been placed within the crosshairs of two warring factions: the trigger-happy local Native Americans (led by Gordon Tootoosis), and the equally-deadly men who work for a power-hungry rancher (Powers Boothe, who looks like he’s just glad to be working). Meanwhile, a mysterious blonde lady clad in figure-fitting black (a slightly-talented Helena Mattsson) is going around, quoting Edgar Allan Poe before she dispatches her victims into the netherworld (she should really have been dubbed by somebody else, too, as her reciting of Poe made me twitch).
Really, it sounds a lot better than it is. It’s awful, though. Truly, dreadfully, dully awful. And Winnick’s cast either chew up the scenery like ravenous termites (including Cindy Park and Jeff Fahey, as well as the aforementioned Cox and the ever-unfunny Cook — the latter of whom in even introduced with goofy comical music, and whose eventual onscreen death didn’t so much as warrant a joyous “Yes!” from me, sadly) or they literally just sit back and die an undeservedly untimely demise (e.g. Oldman and Kattan, who probably would have been able to save a scene or two had his Gay Elvis character been allowed to live longer). Towards the end, Winnick has managed to kill off just about every stereotypically unique character he most likely borrowed from someplace else, with the remaining cast being taught a valuable lesson: greed kills.
Well, I have news for Michael Winnick: so does plagiarism.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment gives us this impertinent indie flick on Blu-ray in a surprisingly stellar 1080p/VC-1 transfer. Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Guns, Girls and Gambling has a very crisp feel to it, with sharp detail, beautiful bold colors, and strong contrast all-around (aside from some deliberately dull flashback bits). Likewise, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack delivers quite well; sadly, this means we get to hear Dane Cook’s voice all-too clearly when he pops up onscreen to smirk and crack a joke. Subtitles for this destined-to-be-forgotten title include English (SDH) and Spanish. Fortunately, there are no special features here. Heck, there isn’t even a menu: the movie goes back to the beginning after it’s done and over with, with a pop-up menu appearing to the left. A few trailers play automatically when the disc first loads — trailers for movies that are mostly similarly in their thematic structure (read: they have guns in ‘em).
If you see a copy of Guns, Girls and Gambling, don’t bet on it.