‘Colt 45’: Film Review

La Petite Reine/Roger Arpajou
A stylistic shooter in the first person, with more bullets than brains

Fabrice Du Welz follows his Cannes entry “Alleluia” with this slick Gallic shoot-‘em-up

Like the handfuls of shell casings lying around after its many high-impact shootouts, the French actioner Colt 45 is slick as steel on the outside and rather hollow on the inside. That said, this B-grade effort from director Fabrice Du Welz offers up some impressively helmed set pieces captured in frigid widescreen cinematography (courtesy of Gaspar Noe regular Benoit Debie), making it more of an amped-up Hollywood calling card than a film that stands on its own. An August release from Warner Bros. France has yielded middling numbers and bad reviews, with Luc Besson’s Lucy severely kicking Colt’s butt at the box office. But the first-rate pyrotechnics augur well for Du Welz’s upcoming English-language project, appropriately titled Children of the Gun.

The Belgian filmmaker came to light in 2004 with the crafty horror flick Calvaire, followed a few years later by the haunting, Thailand-set Vinyan. This year he’s already had one film play in Cannes: the loopy Honeymoon Killers update Alleluia, which features a pair of serial sex fiends who sing and dance after chopping their victims to pieces. And while Colt 45 feels more like a for-hire job than his other works, it nonetheless reveals Du Welz as one of Europe’s premiere genre stylists. 

Based on an idea by co-writer Fathi Beddiar, the story follows 20-something arms expert Vincent (Ymanol Perset), who’s as quick on the draw as he is incapable of stringing a few words together to form a decent sentence. Working by day in a police armory while training by night to be the best tactical shooter around, he soon meets a mysterious top gun, Milo (rapper Joey Starr), who struts his stuff one evening at the firing range, in a particularly phallic scene of bullet-charged male bonding.

When Vincent is ambushed by an unknown assailant, whom he quickly discharges, he brings Milo in to cover up the murder. In exchange, he hands him a small arsenal of weapons, including homemade .45 ammo that explodes on impact. Soon enough, the arms are used in a string of deadly robberies, and Vincent is obliged to work with Commander Chavez (Gerard Lanvin, playing the same cruddy cop he’s portrayed in a dozen other movies) to catch the criminals he’s been supplying all along.

The setup is fairly crude and would hardly hold muster in an American movie. After all, the killing Vincent commits is in self-defense, with the victim ramming into his car and beating the crap out of him. And while Vincent may have shot the guy a few too many times, it doesn’t mean he’d go to jail, even in a country like France that has stricter gun laws and a narrower definition of “légitime défense.”

But once (or if) the viewer accepts this implausibility, Colt 45 plays out as a fairly efficient action-thriller, backed by a series of gripping and well-crafted shootout scenes that make strong use of Vincent’s unique point of view. He’s sort of like Jason Bourne without the language skills (while young star Perset sort of looks like Taylor Lautner, if Lautner has been Photoshopped to meet French standards of hunkiness), and he’s solid enough to take us through all the mayhem, double-crossings and the rather dubious reveal that marks the film’s finale.

Much better than the sketchy narrative and wooden acting is the filmmaking itself, with Du Welz showing how well he knows his away around a good gunfight. He stages one in the pouring rain and another in a cramped banlieue apartment, bullets ricocheting off the peeled wallpaper as the place is torn to pieces. Working with virtuoso cinematographer Debie (who also shot Spring Breakers) for the third time, he ultimately pulls some visual epiphanies out of an otherwise throwaway movie — like finding a few gold nuggets in a barrel of lead.

Production companies: La Petite Reine, Orange Studio, Entre Chien et Loup
Cast: Ymanol Perset, Gerard Lanvin, Joeystarr, Simon Abkarian, Alice Taglioni
Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Screenwriters: Fathi Beddiar, Fabrice Du Welz
Producers: Emmanuel Montamat, Thomas Langmann
Executive producer: Daniel Delume
Director of photography: Benoit Debie
Production designer: Jean-Vincent Puzos
Costume designer: Monic Parelle
Composer: Benjamin Shielden
Sales agent: Wild Bunch

No rating, 84 minutes