Somewhere in the bizarre neo-noir that is Justin Steele’s 2014 film Gutshot Straight is Steven Seagal smoking a big cigar and carrying a drawling accent. He’s not the star of the show by any extent, but seeing him is interesting. It’s as though Seagal enjoyed playing a gangster in 2013’s Force of Execution but only had a few minutes to spare.
Even though the big guy appears atop the poster, Gutshot Straight isn’t about Seagal’s gangster. It’s about a down-on-his-luck poker player played by George Eads. Steele sews it together with a glossy but hallucinogenic feel, showing Sin City in all its seedy glory, but the picture is too bewildering and silly to make a lasting impression.
Eads is Jack, the aforementioned poker player. He owes money to everyone, including Paulie Trunks (Seagal), and he finds himself on the business end of Paulie’s enforcer (Vinnie Jones). One night, Jack connects with a peculiar millionaire named Duffy (Stephen Lang) and begins taking money for parlour tricks. Soon, things escalate.
Duffy takes Jack to his flashy abode, where he wants him to bang a woman (AnnaLynne McCord) in exchange for money. Jack refuses and gets into a physical confrontation with Duffy. Soon, things escalate again. This draws Duffy’s brother Lewis (Ted Levine) into the fray. Guess what? Things escalate.
With a screenplay by Jerry Rapp, Gutshot Straight attempts to play its hand as a Vegas-based noir. It hits all the checkpoints, from the hapless hero to the femme fatale to the cluster of dangerous and mysterious men with terrible hair. There’s not a single original character in the bunch and any dimensions are dumb and arbitrary, like how the audience learns Jack is a failure as a father.
Eads is the star of the show and he’s a winsome dude, but there’s nowhere for his character to go. He’s thrust into one of the most bizarre and convoluted situations anyone could imagine, even in Las Vegas, but there’s no pop. For all the mangy intrigue, Jack’s lack of personality keeps things remarkably flat.
Even when Levine bellies up to the bar and tries to up the ante, Eads’ character folds by virtue of blandness. Seagal drops in between visits to craft services, while Jones shares the same fate. There’s a longing for more of their characters, ridiculous as they are, and that illustrates just how dull this Gutshot Straight really is.
Visually, Steele’s flick spends time focusing on the appearance of fires around Duffy’s pool. The camera tucks in close, presumably drawing on something interesting. This motif doesn’t pan out and the repetition of slow-motion doesn’t help matters, with Duffy’s strange shove of Jack into the pool proving one of the film’s many unintentionally hilarious moments.
From the 007-tinged credits to the off-measure pacing to the one-note characters, there’s not a lot to like about Gutshot Straight. This is a movie with an aesthetic roadmap, but there’s no pulse. There are markers to hit and clichés to match, but Steele’s picture has no soul of its own. Even Seagal, stripped of his stunt double’s martial arts, fritters away on the sidelines. What a waste.