9 Bullets, 2022.
Written and Directed by Gigi Gaston.
Starring Lena Headey, Dean Scott Vazquez, Sam Worthington, Barbara Hershey, Cam Gigandet, Marc Menchaca, Martin Sensmeier, La La Anthony, Marlene Forte, Stephanie Arcila, Emma Holzer, Chris Mullinax, Cornelia Guest, Zachary Mooren, Anthony Fitzgerald, and Claire Liz Phillips.
A burlesque dancer must go on the run to save a neighbor boy whose life is threatened by her ex-lover.
9 Bullets has an unfortunate corniness wrapped up in an otherwise solid on-the-lam thriller. The story’s core follows Gypsy (Lena Headey turning in some of her best work since Game of Thrones), a burlesque dancer with an autobiographical book that discloses and ruminates on her tragic past about to be published. It’s a former life she wants nothing more to do with, once the flame of career criminal Jack (Sam Worthington), who was there for her following a rough time.
The film opens with a dance routine from Gypsy cutting back and forth to young Sam (Dean Scott Vazquez) receiving a panicked call from his father, instructing the boy to make use of a secret exit he has been prepared to use for such an emergency, bringing with him an iPad containing necessary information. Sam doesn’t get to successfully rendezvous with his family, as they are murdered by Jack’s mostly bumbling hillbilly comedic henchmen, As Sam’s next-door neighbor, it falls upon Gypsy to reluctantly look after the boy and take him on a road trip to a suitable guardian that cruelly has no interest in taking him in. Also along for the journey is Sam’s chihuahua, which quickly becomes one of the bluntest, in-your-face metaphors in quite some time, even before more is revealed about Gypsy’s past.
The best stretch of 9 Bullets is a short-lived reconnection between Gypsy and Jack, the former of which is trying to convince the latter she has no idea who the child is, let alone has him. Meanwhile, Jack wants her back and doesn’t seem to be entertained or satisfied by the dimwitted younger woman currently keeping him company as a replacement. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the only portions that writer and director Gigi Gaston seems interested in exploring seriously in terms of characterization (aside from the bonding between Gypsy and Sam). There’s even a steamy sexual sequence between the former lovers driven by character that allows both actors to go for it with much palpable passion.
Shortly after, the goons discover that Gypsy has Sam (right before a forced manipulative sequence leading viewers to think the dog has been run over by a car), and a chase is on all across the West Coast. Even then, it’s primarily engaging when 9 Bullets sticks to the core trio of characters. For whatever reason, the script also crams in run-ins with side characters (there is a subplot involving a stolen car where Gypsy and Sam don’t realize the owner is asleep in the back, bringing in some out of place awkward comedy). At the same time, the direction can’t help itself from relying on cheesy needle drops to generate some emotional investment. The baffling part is that none of that is needed considering Lena Headey excels at expressing the pain, regret, and intestinal fortitude of Gypsy, finding charming chemistry with Dean Scott Vasquez. Barbara Hershey plays the only minor character worth a damn here, a cabin owner given some slightly subversive material to work with.
This is also a movie where an 11-year-old child is skilled in trading cryptocurrency. As a result, when Gypsy frequently tells Sam that she will be fine because she has nine lives, it’s something you start to think 9 Bullets will follow through on, considering the surrounding absurdity. There’s a feel-good tone constantly interrupting the wrong dramatic places, which I suppose should be expected since the distributor Screen Media touts their movies as chicken noodle soup for the soul, but that doesn’t make it excusable or any less lame and annoying. The story takes every road to be expected and somewhat becomes intolerable once the third act rolls around.
It’s a shame because this could have been a special project with a few script tweaks for everyone involved. Again, there are bright spots within the performances and some character dynamics in 9 Bullets, so one won’t necessarily be taking a bullet themselves should they choose to watch this, but they will surely be grazed by one. It should also be noted that 13-time Oscar-nominated Diane Warren wrote an original song, so completionists might just want to get in line for that bullet and get it over.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com