Under the Gun (1995)

PLOT: Over the course of a single evening, a nightclub owner is thrown into a pressure cooker of maladies: gangsters, corrupt police, drugs, marital problems, double-crosses, a red-eye flight to Mexico, and a really persistent pimp. Fortunately, all of these issues can be resolved through kickboxing.

Director: Matthew George
Writer: Matthew George
Cast: Richard Norton, Kathy Long, Robert Bruce, Peter Lindsey, David Serafin, Ron Vreeken, Roland Dantes

Multitasking has almost always been trumpeted as a virtue. Whether it’s attending a conference call while manipulating pivot tables in Excel, or drinking a gin and tonic and smoking a cigar while getting a lap dance, multitasking allegedly makes life easier and more efficient. Is the ability to complete several tasks during the same time frame ever a bad thing? If you’re a disgraced hockey player turned nightclub owner named Frank Torrance, abso-fucking-lutely.

Played by legendary Australian facekicker Richard Norton, Torrance has a lot on his dinner plate: the baked potato of uncertainty, the skirt steak of deception, and the grilled asparagus of bad luck. His backstory is not entirely uncommon: he was a successful pro hockey player sentenced to a year in prison after refusing to testify in a teammate’s drug trial. Following incarceration, he utilized his business acumen to open a nightclub backed by capital from the Italian mob and is now forced to run errands for them, usually drug deals. If I recall correctly, this describes nearly half of the NHLPA 93’ roster for the Sega Genesis.

The film opens with Frank closing a heroin deal with a crew of Triads led by Filipino action legend Roland Dantes and things quickly go awry. After pummeling the Asian gang members in a tornado of splinters and China White, Torrance walks away from the wreckage with the drug money and the stash. His plan is simple: screw over the Triads and his mafia backers, steal the drug money, falsify a purchase ledger so he can sell his club to an interested buyer, and oversee completion of the club’s expansive renovations in time to board a plane to Mexico with his wife later that night. As fate would have it though, there are a few sugary bumps along the road in this cakewalk.

Since the club opened, Torrance has had his old hockey teammate Harry (Lindsey) on staff as head of security. To repay this compassion from a guy who did a prison stint over his drug scandal, Harry has devolved into a stuttering and aloof junkie. So despite the mutual loyalty, it’s no great surprise that Torrance hires a fellow ex-con named Tom (Serafin) who expresses interest in working as a bouncer. Can he be trusted? In an effort to save time on the background check and payroll set-up, Torrance instead kicks his ass to test his mettle and Tom passes with flying colors. This was practically the same hiring process at Papa Gino’s when I was 15 years old.

Meanwhile, a businessman named Linpow pays a surprise visit to the club with his accountant in tow, and they want to close the deal to buy the property. Only problem? Frank’s accountant has the business ledger and has gone missing. To stall the proceedings, Torrance entertains his company with a premium blend of booze and a blonde, gyrating woman.

Unsurprisingly, the surprises don’t end there. Triad enforcers come to the club looking for revenge and the stolen drug money, the gyrating woman’s pimp gets progressively more agitated, and an old police friend named Lisa Krause (Long) shows up to warn Frank about a corrupt cop with a vendetta (and a swanky eye-patch -- yarrrrrr!) Inevitably, all of these elements boil over in a climactic goulash of bullets and blood.

Martial-arts film plots in the West are notorious for being either riddled with cliches or needlessly convoluted. Rather uniquely, George takes the most direct path to both: in combining so many cliches he achieves convolution. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because he weaves the different threads together well and the film’s pace kept me invested throughout the runtime. In keeping the plot points fairly shallow, George is able to avoid getting bogged down for too long in any one of them, and he uses the action very effectively to flesh out the film.

It goes without saying that I like my action like I like my women: consistent, creative, and extremely violent. That said, despite the fact that it goes without saying, Under the Gun is one of the hottest women I’ve seen. At least this week. The action quotient runs high and Norton brings a ton of experience to the table in choreographing each fight sequence. While most of the other actors are bulkier and therefore not as quick, Norton and Long still put their skills to good use and shine. Norton in particular has some choice moments using props like mops, pipes, and lamps to fight off enemies. There’s even a portion of a fight in the club’s alleyway where Norton predates a set-piece used in Ong-Bak by a good eight years. After walking through a puddle of freshly-spilled cooking oil, he voluntarily puts his feet into a burning fire and starts fire-kicking the shit out of his adversaries.

Norton isn’t all flash and fire, though. I’ve admittedly not seen a ton of Richard Norton starring vehicles outside of his work with Cirio H. Santiago where he played a brooding loner in various post-apocalyptic wastelands. Elsewhere, he’s been cast as the gwailo villain, one half of a tandem, or a supporting character in an action ensemble cast. Under the Gun is very much Norton’s movie though, and it gives him a chance to show off some humorous touches and acting chops. When the scene requires it, his demeanor fluctuates from sarcastic to serious, frustrated to exhausted, enraged to relieved. He also strikes a blow for every consumer burned by shitty airline service by first expressing agitation (“Bitch!”) then anger (“Fucking bitch!”) to a snooty customer service rep. He’s not going to win any Oscars for his dramatic skills, but Norton’s Frank Torrance is a more fully-formed character than we’re used to seeing from him specifically and martial-arts films in general. For an authoritative lead performance from Richard Norton, this film is a great place to start.

Did I mention he kicks a dude while his shoes are on fire?

In the end, Under the Gun is the portrayal of one man for whom the ability to multitask ultimately betrays him. If he had instead renovated his club on Monday and Tuesday, then sold the club on Wednesday, and fucked over the gangs on Thursday before flying to Mexico later that night, he could avoided such an action-packed mess. He also could have taken advantage of Thursday airfare rates, which are typically cheaper than flying on Fridays. Lesson learned here? Don’t procrastinate.

In permanent "Save" limbo on Netflix, but this shouldn't cost you more than $10 on Amazon.

5 / 7


  1. Nice Review! Really enjoyed this movie. Norton was great in it. Also loved the part when he kicked the guy with his shoes on fire!

    Our review of this is coming soon!

  2. I've heard a lot of good things about this one, plus it has Kathy Long, who was just in the Albert Pyun film Knights that I just saw. I'm going to have to check it out.

  3. Ty - Looking forward to another take on this one. I completely forgot to mention the fact that half the cast has an Aussie accent, Kathy Long has a West Coast American accent, and a few Italian gang members have New Jersey accents. Where the hell did this film take place?

    DtVC - They don't reinvent the wheel here but it's a solid 90 minutes of (mostly) action. Knights is one that's been on my radar since learning of that stellar cast and seeing the trailer. I have the VHS and haven't cracked it yet but the movie looks like a lot of fun.


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