9 Bullets is a startlingly bad film, one that struggles to reach even basic competence in any individual or collective regard.
In his recent book Why It’s Ok To Love Bad Movies, philosophy professor Matthew Strohl carefully delineates the various strands and modes of “bad movie” appreciation, including the common but oft-misunderstood phrase “so bad it’s good.” To briefly synopsize what is essentially a book-length argument, Strohl suggests that something can still be aesthetically valuable not in spite of, but because it is an artistic failure. Here, he cites Plan 9 From Outer Space, one of the most famous of all “bad movies” that has nonetheless engendered decades of impassioned fandom and cult appreciation. The idea is that, despite the film’s obvious limitations, director Ed Wood’s idiosyncratic personality infuses the object with value beyond traditional notions of good or bad. Of course, the flip side to this argument considers films that are simply bad-bad; that is, films that attempt to adhere to the conventional norms of narrative filmmaking and simply fail at it while refusing to offer anything of value in place of those norms. All of which is a long-winded, roundabout way of saying that 9 Bullets is simply a bad film — not in an ironic way, or one ripe for cult recuperation, but simply in the most general, banal way. It contains nothing of value, possesses no personality or idiosyncrasies, and should not be viewed by anyone for any reason. The only question that remains, then, is how did this get made, and how did it manage to cast Sam Worthington and multiple Emmy, SAG, and Golden Globe awards nominee Lena Headey?
One must assume that the answer here is money, as is so often the case. And yet the film looks like it was filmed over the course of a long weekend with virtually no resources. Curious, indeed. Like old European co-productions of the ’60s and ’70s, 9 Bullets gives the impression of a screenplay written in another language and then hastily translated into English, full of awkward turns of phrase, odd pauses, repetitive plot points that reiterate the same beats ad nauseam, and a general lack of knowledge about how normal people interact in everyday situations. Here, Headey is Gypsy, a burlesque dancer who is retiring to focus on writing a book about her life (a real howler, that a stripper’s hard-luck memoir would be her ticket to respectability and financial independence). But before she knows it, her neighbors are gunned down by gangsters looking for an iPad with bank account info on it. Seems the neighbor was skimming from the local drug lord, and he wants his money back. In quick order, Gypsy stumbles across the only serving member of the family, young Sam (Dean Scott Vazquez) and his dog, and ascertains that it is in fact her former beau Jack (Sam Worthington) who ordered the hit. It should be noted that all of this happens in the first few minutes of the film, much of it intercut with woozy, soft-focus footage of Headey performing a striptease. It’s odd, to say the least. Before you know it, Gypsy and Sam are on the run together, with Jack and his goons in hot pursuit. What follows is both predictable and occasionally enervating, as the tough-as-nails Gypsy agrees to take Sam to an uncle in another state while she simultaneously attempts to use her former relationship with Jack to keep him from killing them. Will she gradually thaw to Sam’s charms, despite her traumatic past? Will this fallen woman gain redemption by protecting an innocent? The Christian allegory is obvious, although there’s thankfully no overt religious propaganda. Instead, this is ultimately just one cliché after another, the only surprises in store being just how ineptly each scene will be shot. Clearly there were dollies and Steadicams on set for at least part of filming, although good luck trying to figure out exactly how writer/director Gigi Gaston is blocking her shots. The less said about the cinematography the better; 9 Bullets looks like HD shit, all blown-out and over-lit, except for nighttime scenes, which are also over-lit but slightly less so. Gaston introduces a few new characters halfway through the narrative, as if tacitly admitting that the movie’s main plot can’t sustain even a 90-minute runtime, but they’re discarded almost as soon we meet them. It’s all inconsequential, as is the movie itself. There’s nothing to see here except a couple of decent actors who presumably needed a paycheck or got tricked. The only good news is that there’s a good chance no one will ever see this dud, as it is relegated to the dustbin of a streaming service near you.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — April 2022.