Gun: A Fatal Betrayal

Perhaps because their self-contained narratives more closely resemble feature films than traditional TV programs, the anthology series often proves irresistible to filmmakers making the leap from the big screen to the small screen. Their efforts rarely find favor with audiences, however: In 1997, Robert Altman followed in the footsteps of the Hudlins (Cosmic Slop), Steven Spielberg (Amazing Stories), Wes Craven (Nightmare Café), and David Lynch (Hotel Room) by executive-producing a failed attempt to resuscitate the anthology series. Created by TV vet James Steven Sadwith, director of such amusingly titled TV movies as Deadly Intentions... Again?, Gun followed the adventures of its titular inanimate protagonist, a pearl-handled handgun that found its way into the lives of a different group of people every week. Sadwith wrote and directed the first half of Gun's pilot (re-titled Gun: A Fatal Betrayal for video), a drama starring Rosanna Arquette as the bored wife of big-hearted but traditional security guard James Gandolfini. Frustrated by the monotony of her housebound existence, Arquette begins an affair with sleazy writer Peter Horton, a tryst that has unfortunate consequences when Gandolfini ends up unknowingly buying a gun previously owned by a terrorist eager to retrieve it. Sadwith's segment starts out promisingly but grows increasingly manipulative and farfetched as it goes along. Arquette and Gandolfini create sympathetic, fully formed characters out of little, but everything else feels contrived, from Horton's improbably speedy seduction of Arquette to a twist ending that rings hollow. Far more interesting, but still flawed, is the pilot's second vignette, the first pairing of Altman and screenwriter Anne Rapp, who would go on to pen Cookie's Fortune and Dr. T And The Women. Rife with themes that would reach fruition in the pair's later work, the Altman/Rapp segment stars Randy Quaid as the happy-go-lucky, womanizing president-elect of a Texas country club. Quaid's seemingly charmed life gets turned inside out when someone begins sending guns and clips to the many women with whom he's become involved, from his not-so-oblivious wife (Daryl Hannah) to his ditsy lover (Jennifer Tilly), to his lawyer and ex-lover (Sean Young). A light comedy with dark undercurrents, the segment shares with T and Fortune a fascination with the way privileged Southern society unravels, revealing the sublimated anger and discontent just beneath its calm surface. It also shares with those films a knack for broad, farcical supporting characters and situations, but where T and Fortune both skirted sitcom broadness without ever crossing the line, Altman doesn't have as much luck here. Characters like Hannah's presidential-trivia-obsessed housewife and a running gag involving Kinky Friedman both cross the thin line separating the quirky from the cutesy, rendering Gun yet another interesting failure in a career that has seen its share.

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