Diane Lane is pleasant enough in "My New Gun," a quirky suburban black comedy that feels as retro as a disco ball . . . and separate beds. There's a Seventies' look to the film's design, with coordinated shades of primary colors and the decade's typical leisure-suit pacing, but the tone of this Stacy Cochran film—especially in the early going—is straight out of the Sixties'. It's like the Rob and Laura Petrie version of "The Brady Bunch Movie," where characters seem hopelessly out of touch with the times.
I mean, here's Lane as trophy wife Debbie Bender, married to a doctor (Stephen Collins) who acts like the women's movement never happened or that the pace of life hasn't changed one iota from the era of button-down collars. She's apparently bright, but accepts this superficial level of relationship and his gentle domineering as if she had just been brainwashed by sitting through a Doris Day film festival. She and Gerald have striped-pajama pillow talk that's as proper and tepid as can be, and they live in a condo that looks like every other—which, of course, implies that their lives are typical. But we're not given much in the way of information to gauge this in order to accept the film as the satire of suburbia it tries desperately to be, at times. Unfortunately, there aren't enough suburban elements—the cookouts on lavish wooden decks, the whirl of chauffeuring the kids here and there (wait—this must be an adult's only neighborhood, because there isn't a kid in sight)—for that to happen. There's also no back story to explain how this apparently mismatched couple got together. He's pompous, she's down-to-earth; he's cool, she's warm; he's self-centered, she's into people—which we can tell by her reaction to another soon-to-be-trophy wife. And there's no explanation offered as to why a doctor and a woman as savvy as Debbie would apparently have only one couple to hang out with (another doctor and his very young fiancée) and one neighbor to interact with—a not-too-terribly-bright space cadet named Skippy (James LeGros), whose perpetual expression is such that you expect the word "Dude" to fly out of his mouth at any given moment. He looks like a refugee from a Grunged-out rock band and does nothing to hide his fascination with Mrs. Bender from the doctor. There's all sorts of possibility presented, but every time you think the film is going somewhere, it goes somewhere else.
Some will find that intriguing, while others will find it simply unsatisfying. "My New Gun" is the kind of movie that can fall between the cracks. It's a suburban satire, sort of, but then it quickly turns into a standard chain-of-events story where character takes a back seat. It's billed as a comedy, but the genuinely funny moments serve only to remind us that there aren't more of them. It verges on being a three-way relationship farce, but not enough episodes in the chain of events relates to love or sex. Which is to say that "My New Gun" is entertaining enough, but it's about as memorable as the Brady's neighbors.
I'll try not to give too much of the plot away, since the movie is so plot-dependent, but things start off with great promise. Debbie and Gerald entertain the other doctor and his fiancée with a stiff formality, when at some point Irwin Bloom (Bruce Altman) reveals that he bought his young bride-to-be a gun with her name monogrammed on it: Myra (Maddie Corman). That night, as the camera pans the identical exteriors before cutting to the Bender's bedroom, we expect by the filmmaker's emphasis on sameness that Gerald must buy Debbie a gun—not so much for her protection as to simply keep up with the Joneses. That sets off a chain of events involving Skippy (who first takes the gun out of the house to make the Mrs. more comfortable, then "borrows" it for another purpose) and people from Skippy's world. It's set up as a bored housewife scenario and Skippy is such a devoted little puppy that it flatters Debbie so much that we know at some point the two of them will get together. The problem is, she's an intelligent, smartly dressed woman who's intuitive and generous, and there's no development in the plot that would convince us that she'd have a relationship—even a ten-minute one—with someone who's not very bright not very intuitive and about as well-dressed as a panhandler. Yes, he has a good heart, but the way LeGros plays Skippy there's also something of an obsessive stalker in him—enough so that we would expect Debbie to be more cautious than she is. And things get even stranger when Skippy grabs the gun, his relatives (Tess Harper and Bill Raymond) enter the picture, and Debbie agrees to serve as Myra's matron of honor.
The film feels so retro that it's almost surprising that the quality is as good as it is—the colors so vibrant and sharp at the margins—until you remember, "Hey, this was made in 1992!" "My New Gun" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and, as I said, the picture quality is very good, even in low-light scenes. That's surprising, because this offbeat entry has the feel of an independent or low-budget film, and you almost expect cheaper film stock and less proficient lighting. Not so, and there's nothing in the visuals to distract us from the film's main action.
Surprisingly, the sound is mastered in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, with zero rear-speaker effects and only slight echoes of the front speaker in the left and right mains. No complaints, though. Sounds at the low end are still robust. The soundtrack is in English, with English and Spanish subtitles.
Sorry, Diane Lane fans—no extras. Only the scene access points.
Lane looks SO young in this film, but she carries herself with the same quiet grace and power as in later films—and that's saying something, because the characters in "My New Gun" are limited by a script that's more fascinated with the domino-like chain of events and occasional (but odd) plot twists. The young woman who plays Myra has a scene where she shows some depth, but the other actors aren't able to convey as much under Cochran's subtle direction, with the sad result being that they come off as one-dimensional. As I said, "My New Gun" is entertaining for an evening's diversion, but it could have been much more