Pups

A thuddingly banal social critique about a pair of prepubescent latchkey kids who find a handgun and hold up a bank, Pups, the second feature from Bang director Ash, was both the victim and the beneficiary of unfortunate timing. Two days after its premiere at the Los Angeles International Film Festival, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on Columbine High, an event that scared off prospective distributors while lending credence to the film's facile points about gun control, absentee parenting, and the media. Pups exhausts the lion's share of its ideas in about 10 seconds, as asthmatic 13-year-old Cameron Van Hoy attempts to videotape his own suicide in his mother's bedroom. Like one of the sensationalist creatures from Natural Born Killers or Kids, he's clearly having trouble distinguishing violent images from reality and there's no one around to help sort it out. After he and girlfriend Mischa Barton discover the gun in a conspicuous location, they decide on a whim to rob the bank, though neither seems all that interested in money. When they fail to make their getaway in time, they're forced to take hostages and negotiate with grizzled FBI agent Burt Reynolds. In its few clever moments, Pups resembles Bang in its depiction of characters who enjoy taking on authoritative roles they're ill-suited to play, but apart from free pizza delivery and an interview with MTV's Kurt Loder (who looks bored), Ash doesn't spend much time indulging their teenage fantasies. Instead, he stages a cut-rate, media-saturated Dog Day Afternoon with histrionic children in the lead roles, building to a predictable finish that's as preachy as it is obligatory.

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