What Is It With Actors, Hollywood and Guns?


no-guns-iconA week or so ago I was walking the length of a subway platform to board a train so I’d be at a handy exit when I reached my destination. Marching along, I started perusing the posters and quickly realized that most of the advertisements were for summer movies and just about all of them-Despicable Me 2 was the sole exception-were for shoot-’em-ups.

The flicks anticipated by someone (perhaps only the studios releasing them) included the already available White House Down with Channing Tatum toting a rifle of some sort; Red 2 with Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta Jones and Byung-hun Lee packing pistols (but not Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins of the preceding Red); R. I. P. D. with Ryan Reynolds wielding one pistol and Jeff Bridges wielding one silver and one gold pistol (Mary Louise Parker is in this cast, too, but whether she displays her gun prowess here isn’t confided); and Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg determinedly pointing one gun each (Washington towards the right, Wahlberg towards the left) in the unceremoniously titled-why not, even though it appears to be a bank-heist comedy?-2 Guns.

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It was Jean-Luc Godard who said some time ago, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” although were he considering the preponderance of buddy movies nowadays, he might leave out the “girl” part. Nevertheless, out in Hollywood, they certainly pay homage to the “gun” part.

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What I’d like to know is what message the marketing departments think they’re sending. Well, I think I do know. They’re implying with no degree of subtlety that carrying a gun is “cool.” It’s obviously the coolest way to get young men and maybe many older men-surely, an abundance of them NRA members-into movie houses during the hot months, perhaps along with their significant others. But how cool is it really at any time but particularly when the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin verdict has been handed down and innumerable citizens are concerned about self-appointed vigilantes patrolling the streets?

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Before I continue, I need to say I’m hardly averse to a man’s or woman’s notching knowledge about guns. I have some under my belt-not to say gun belt. In my early teens, I went to two summer camps, both of which featured rifle practice along with baseball, swimming and handicrafts. (I can make a two-foot lanyard in a matter of minutes.) I say with little modesty that simply by sticking to the acronym “BASS” (breathe, aim, sight, shoot), I eventually rose to the rank of sharpshooter.

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When I was in the Army Reserves, I returned to riflery and reached the point where I could disassemble and reassemble my rifle with alarming speed and in the dark. We all were able to do it. Not only that, we knew not to talk about “guns” but to use the noun “weapon” when referring to our firearm.

So I can chat about my marksmanship whenever I want, fully confident I could regain the expertise quickly. Yet, I don’t own a gun, haven’t held a weapon in my hand in decades. This is something many Hollywood actors can’t say, although, were they polled, they would undoubtedly claim to favor gun control.

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But don’t you wonder how they feel about having themselves slapped on billboards around the world holding guns and suggesting (subliminally?) to impressionable millions that carrying guns to the cool thing to do? Yes, some of the roles they’ve taken on are as law enforcers. For instance, that’s who Bridges and Reynolds are playing in R. I. P. D. Near as I can make out from the trailer, the two are members of a squad of the dead entrusted with the task of stopping other returning dead who happen to be evil. Yet, surely this kind of contemporary zombie-influenced fantasy doesn’t quite excuse the wholesale gun toting.

Of course, the salary actors pull down for movies like these is highly appealing. For some of these well-paid celluloid celebrities, the banked millions may allow their participation in worthwhile but low-paying independent films. Also, it’s possible the very making of these movies is fun, as in the Reds 2 instance-that’s if the fun-loving actors disregard what kind of negative influence the result could have.

There’s another aspect to the shooting (no pun intended) schedules and conditions about which most moviegoers don’t know. They’re brought to light in Dan Baum’s recently released Gun Guys (Knopf, $26.95). A gun owner himself, Baum decided he wanted to know more about people and their guns and went on an odyssey, part of which took him to Hollywood, where he learned plenty.

For one thing he found out that posters featuring guns aren’t sacrosanct. Something can be done about them. When the 2010 comedy The Other Guys starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (him again-the fellow who fires the last revolver in The Departed) was due to open in San Francisco, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency insisted on and got a poster minus guns and with the actors displaying badges and pepper spray.

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Even more edifying but perhaps not all that surprising, Baum found out on a visit to Independent Studio Services, billed as “the largest movie armory in the world,” that not only are some actors reluctant to handle firearms but that all actors only handle weapons reconfigured to fire blanks-with effects like smoke and sound added later. Moreover, many guns employed are plastic replicas.

Say what?! Okay, according to Baum’s sources, an actual doctored gun may be substituted for scripted shootings in order for an actor to “feel” he or she is employing the real thing. Still, how cool does an actor remain when a ticket buyer finds out that it all comes down to smoke and sound men?

It may even be time to ask if the studios have it right about the commercial value of guns this blockbuster season. The biggest flop of the current stretch looks to be The Lone Ranger wherein Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer are the major weapons-wavers. What trounced the supposed $250 million production at the box office? The $76 million Despicable Me 2, the poster for which shows one of the character holding not a gun but a golf club!