Shoot or Be Shot (2002) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality, some crude humor, violence and brief drug use
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: William Shatner, Harry Hamlin, Scott Rinker, Julianne Christie, Dylan Ziegler, Marcus Ashley, Lisa Long
Director: J. Randall (Randy) Argue
Screenplay: J. Randall Argue, Steve Catanzaro, Alistair Salton
The reason why the very low budget indie feature, Shoot or Be Shot, doesnít quite work can be narrowed down to the main reason why many people may end up watching it to begin with, the casting of Shatner (Star Trek, Showtime) and Hamlin (Clash of the Titans) in their respective roles. Granted, neither one of them is exactly held in high regard for their acting chops, but their roles in this film donít exactly require much finesse. Yet, they are known quantities that get in the way whenever things finally begin to hit their stride, and one can only speculate as to how good the film would have been if their roles were reversed. Shatner would probably have made a terrific B-movie mogul, and Hamlin is certainly a little more believable as a violent psychopath than huggable teddy bear Shatner. Itís sad to see a funny script fall short because they were able to get some recognizable stars that were all wrong for their parts, and the irony comes when you realize that this film will be blessed with higher exposure by their presence, but in so doing, Shoot or Be Shot will probably miss their target audience altogether.
Shatner plays Harvey Wilkes, a recent escapee from a mental institution out to pursue his dream of making a name for himself as a motion picture screenwriter. Hamlin plays the king of bad action movies who realizes that his style of movies is getting pretty old, so to keep up with the times, he decides to do more smaller independent artsy films to turn his image around. Along comes aspiring artistic director Ben Steinman (Rinker), who tries to make an aleatoric film, shooting without a script while capturing reactions by unknowing people (a la "Candid Camera"), and soon they hit the high desert (itís cheaper to shoot there) in hopes of making their finest film yet. Trouble follows the production when Hamlinís ex-girlfriend tries to crash the set in disguise, while Shatner sees the opportunity to hijack the production and finally make the movie that will put his name in lights.
Shoot or Be Shot looks every bit like a shoestring budget film, shot to video instead of film for cost purposes. Although it does make the film looks rather cheap, it actually doesnít suffer too much in the direction or editing department, and director/co-writer J. Randall Argue does a very good job in punching things up whenever possible stylistically. The supporting cast is surprisingly good, with Rinker and Christie showing some good comedic skills in some intentionally shallow roles. The script is probably the better aspect of the production, with the occasional pithy line, and good comic character development increases the enjoyment.
Unfortunately, the budget constraints and the aforementioned casting issues never allow the film to gel as well as it should. Those seeking to rent this should keep expectations low, and the clever dialogue and some likeable performances just might reward you with a nice comic diversion. Fans of Shatner may also like seeing him cut loose as the affable psychopath. However, fans of good comedies may find the unevenness of the pacing and the turn to schlock violence in the final third to be a drain on the momentum, leaving Shoot or Be Shot as an independent film that had the intelligence to be good, but lacked the experience to drive all of its ambitious ideas home.
©2004 Vince Leo