Burned-out writer Jake Bridges (William L. Petersen, a year or two before CSI) comes home one day to discover his wife in bed with another man. Jake, who is already suffering from an epic case of writer’s block, goes to Atlantic City and tries to drink his troubles away. When the bitter Jake gets into a bar fight, he’s saved by Frankie (Michael Wincott). Frankie takes Jake back to his house, where Jake meets Frankie’s girlfriend, Melissa (Diane Lane). Jake also discovers that Frankie works as a debt collector for a local mob boss, Lange (Michael Byrne).
Frankie and Jake strike up an unexpected friendship. Jake wants to experience what it’s like to be a real tough guy. Frankie wants to improve his vocabulary. Frankie agrees to take Jake with him when he makes his collections on the condition that Jake recommend a book to him. Soon, Jake is pretending to be a gangster and Frankie is reading Moby Dick. Frankie shows Jake how to be intimidating. Jake explains the symbolism of Ahab’s quest to Frankie. They become good friends, with the only possible complication being that Jake is falling in love with Melissa.
For a low-budget neonoir that, as far as I know, never even got a theatrical release before being released to video, Gunshy is surprisingly good. The plot may sometimes be predictable but Petersen and especially Wincott give good performances and they both play off of each other well. Diane Lane is undeniably sexy but also bring a fierce intelligence and a sense of wounded dignity to the role of Melissa. This is a love triangle where you want things to work out for all three of the people involved. The rest of the cast is full of familiar faces. Keep an eye out for everyone from R. Lee Ermey to Meat Loaf. Director Jeff Celantano keeps the story moving and proves himself to be adept at balancing scenes of violence with scenes where Frankie and Jake simply discuss their differing views of the world.
An unjustly obscure film, Gunshy is a 90s film that deserves to be rediscovered.