Tamra Davis's compelling first feature prefigured a wave of murderous-lovers-on-the-run indie movies in the 1990s; it also reinvigorated Drew Barrymore's career and legitimized her talents as a serious and mature actress.
Anita (Drew Barrymore), a poor, naive high-schooler, gratifies any guy who comes on to her, including her absent mother's drunken boyfriend, Rooney (Joe Dallesandro), with whom she lives in a trailer. When Anita becomes a pen pal to imprisoned murderer Howard (James LeGros), she falls in love with
him. Howard's insistence that his dream woman love guns as much as he does inspires her to take up target shooting with Rooney's gun. Howard becomes eligible for parole; Anita secures him a job with eccentric local preacher Hank (Billy Drago). Anita, excited over Howard's imminent arrival, spurns
Rooney's advances. Rooney rapes her; she shoots and kills him.
After Howard arrives, Anita accompanies him to a meeting with his parole officer, Kincaid (Michael Ironside), where Howard expresses his dreams of working with guns. Kincaid, suspicious, warns his daughter Joy (Ione Skye), Anita's friend, to stay away from the couple. Insulted, Howard and Anita go
out for target practice; Howard kisses her, but he's upset by Anita's sexual advances. Hank finds them together and demands they either break up or marry. They marry; Howard reveals he's never been able to have sex. Anita, in turn, shows him Rooney's body, which she's stored in a freezer. When
Howard and Anita throw the body in the local dump's furnace, they're accosted by two of Anita's past "conquests" (Rodney Harvey and Jeremy Davies); Howard shoots and kills them both. Despite Howard's protests, Anita swears she wouldn't turn on him if he got caught.
When Hank is hospitalized with a rattlesnake bite, Kincaid tells Howard he must work through his parole elsewhere. Howard disagrees, and the sheriff (Dick Warlock) offers to arrest Howard. Anita shoots and kills the sheriff. Taking Kincaid hostage, they steal a car and drive to the desert; Anita
begs Howard to spare Kincaid, since he's Joy's father. Leaving Kincaid behind, Howard and Anita break into a house, and they successfully make love. Kincaid, tipped off by police to the couple's whereabouts, drives to the standoff. With the house surrounded, Howard attempts to secure Anita's
innocence by yelling out his plans to shoot her. Under siege, Anita and Howard shoot and kill the incoming cops. Howard takes Anita's gun before the next wave of police comes in. He pretends to hold Anita hostage, then shoots at the cops; they shoot and kill him. Anita cries over Howard's body.
When Kincaid approaches, she says Howard "made me do it."
Marketing-minded folks may be quick to position GUNCRAZY as a 90s take on BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and its title is certainly meant to evoke Joseph H. Lewis's 1949 classic GUN CRAZY. But this film is by no means as brash, startling, or iconoclastic as either. Its quieter character-study nature has
more in common with THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1949), its remake THIEVES LIKE US (1974), and BADLANDS (1973). Compared to these three landmarks, GUNCRAZY comes up lacking in lyricism and resonance, but it does give ample pleasures thanks to a subtly self-aware sense of humor and fine performances by its
While the psychology presented here--guns equal empowerment and substitute for virility--is nothing new, Anita's sunny naivete is fresh and perversely appealing; her sheer giddiness over her firearms prowess is infectious, and her pathetic need to offer herself sexually in return for what she
perceives to be acceptance and affection is genuinely wrenching. Despite her character's actions and circumstances, Barrymore brilliantly makes the audience believe Anita is not a slutty piece of trailer trash with her guileless, winning smile and chirpy good-heartedness. Her performance here, so
drastically different from her femme-fatale comeback turn in POISON IVY (1992), helped put the former child star back in the big-screen spotlight. LeGros, with his hangdog face and halting delivery, is well cast as the frustrated, well-meaning, simple-minded Howard; until he makes his first kill,
it's hard to believe he's capable of cold-blooded murder.
After premiering on Showtime, GUNCRAZY earned a deserved theatrical run, perhaps due in part to the novelty (at the time) of female director Davis's sure handling of male-identified subject matter; unlike Kathryn Bigelow, however, Davis relies more on heart than testosterone. Unfortunately, the
promise Davis exhibited in GUNCRAZY wasn't delivered upon in following years; her aborted tenure on BAD GIRLS (1994) led to work mostly on music videos and middling comedies such as HALF BAKED (1998). (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Tamra Davis's compelling first feature prefigured a wave of murderous-lovers-on-the-run indie movies in the 1990s; it also reinvigorated Drew Barrymore's career and legitimized her talents as a serious and mature actress. Anita (Drew Barrymore), a poor, n… (more)