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Guncrazy Review

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Anita (Barrymore) is pure white trash, bored and used in small-town America. Developing a penpal relationship with ex-con Howard (James LeGros), she murders her abusive stepfather and steps out with new man Howard on a wild and murderous downward spiral.

★★★★

Set against the kind of down-at-heel trailer park rarely seen in recent American cinema, this powerful and unexpectedly good low-budgeter seems decades away from the staple wish-fulfilment fantasy of most 90s teen movies. Rooted in the ambiguously doomed 70s spirit of Badlands or Thieves Like Us, with a few Thelma & Louise licks thrown in for good measure, this has a title no doubt intentionally identical to Gun Crazy, the 1949 offering that, along with They Live By Night, inaugurated the killer couple-on-the-road movie.

Anita (Barrymore), a dirt-poor schoolgirl unaffectionately known as "the sperm bank", enters into a remarkably pure but dangerous relationship with pen-pal James Le Gros, a gun-happy and none-too-bright convict. After learning how to use a gun in preparation for her first meeting with her dream guy, Anita murders her mother's sexually abusive boyfriend (Dallesandro) almost for the practice, and when her parolled man comes to town, circumstances force them into further killing. In Bonnie And Clyde mode, the well-intentioned outlaws (when they try to rob a bar, the customers plead poverty and the pair feel obliged to give back the money) dash across country to find Anita's mother, a junkie hooker.

The downbeat storyline is familiar right to the gloomy ending, but the script is tough and gritty (Barrymore's most romantic line is "you can come in my mouth") and all the supporting cast are excellent. Michael Ironside and Billy Drago, usually seen as psycho villains, here show they can act, as a probation officer and a snake-handling preacher respectively, while lone Skye turns in another weirdly stoned cameo as Ironside's airhead daughter. Director Davis does especially good work with the pouting Barrymore, who successfully broke into the adult phase of her career.

Tough and gritty, and featuring Barrymore's graduation from teen starlet to can-act movie star, Guncrazy has much to recommend it.