Does anyone else besides me enjoy seeing a big name movie star before they made it big? While this wasn't Renée Zellweger's first film role, it was certainly the first where she had a starring credit, and certainly a far cry from her more demure character in 1996's Jerry Mcguire. Love and a .45 (1994), written and directed by Texas native C.M. Talkington (his first writing and directing credit) stars, along with Ms. Zellweger, an early appearance by Gil Bellows (who appeared in a much more famous film the same year titled The Shawshank Redemption and then found a greater degree of fame on the hit FOX television show Ally McBeal), and the ever-entertaining Rory Cochrane, who was once involved with Zellweger, and would later appear with her in Empire Records (1995). Also appearing are Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Jace Alexander (Eight Men Out), Ann Wedgeworth (My Science Project), Michael Bowen (Night of the Comet), and Peter Fonda (Easy Rider).
The movie, set in Texas, features Bellows and Zellweger as Watty Watts and Starlene Cheatham, respectively, as a young couple in love living together in modest, mobile surroundings (a trailer home) with their main source of income being Watty robbing convenience stores every once in awhile, when not studying or quoting philosophically from the I Ching. Life has been pretty good for the couple, but Starlene has been pushing for Watty to make an honest woman of her, which leads Watty to borrow a large sum of money from an unscrupulous source (loan shark), and now he must contend with two speed-addicted, gun totin' (does everyone in Texas carry a gun?) collection agents in Dinosaur Bob (Combs) and Creepy Cody (Alexander). Stealing from convenient stores, as you may have figured, while relatively easy, doesn't usually net a large haul, so when Watty's slimy prison buddy Billy Mack Black (Cochrane) comes by with a tip on a large score, Watty sees a chance to get out from under the loan shark's thumb. Things don't go as planned as a clerk gets killed (Billy Mack broke one of Watty's cardinal rules of never carrying a loaded gun, and he's also seriously addicted to crystal meth, a form of speed that makes one highly unpredictable apparently), Watty and Billy have a falling out (ending with Billy getting a fork stuck in an uncomfortable place). Watty, fearing legal entanglements (jail) decides to head for Mexico with his new bride Starlene, with Dinosaur Bob, Creepy Cody, and Billy Mack not far behind, two looking for the money owed, and the third looking for revenge. Oh yeah, Watty and Starlene are now also plastered all over the TV as a state wide hunt by Texas Law enforcement gears up (the clerk who got killed was related to someone high up within the law enforcement community). Yes, Mexico's looking pretty good for Watty and Starlene, what with three trigger-happy speed freaks and the state of Texas, where the popular form of capital punishment is the electric char, hot on their heels.
I did enjoy this film a lot. I've noticed others have compared it to Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (which came out the same year), and while there are certainly similarities, I believe Love and a .45 stands on its' own without, as another reviewer astutely stated, all the pretension or psychotropic cinematography of Stone's film. If anything, I would compare it more to David Lynch's Wild at Heart, which came out four years earlier. I think Talkington did a wonderful job in the writing and directing of his first film, much better than many others' first outings. Not only did he present fun, engaging, and interesting characters, but he also used the backdrop of Texas well, suggesting an intimate familiarity of a true native of the state (which he is). Zellweger is terminally cute, suitably trashy, and very dangerous (when Watty is threatened) as Starlene and Bellows' character of the deep thinking Watty brought forth a lesser image of Nicholas Cage's character of Sailor Ripley in David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990), a much better film finally seeing a DVD release December '04...check it out. Cochrane was entertaining as the psychotic Billy Mack, especially the scene when he's getting a rather large and obvious tattoo on his shaved head. My favorite character was that of Dinosaur Bob, played by Jeffery Combs. I'm a big fan of Combs, and I have to say, I didn't even recognize him here at first. His presence on the screen nearly ellipses the others in just about any scene he appears, as he get his character full on, chewing the heck out of the scenery. He's just a lot of fun to watch here, as he is in most of his film appearances. Fonda and Wedgeworth appear as Starlene's hippy parents, and play their roles well, but I never got the impression they were really stretching their abilities too much, playing characters stereotypical to the actors. Their characters lacked strength, but since they were supporting cast, I can't be too critical. I thought the choice of music was really appropriate and with artists like The Flaming Lips, Meat Puppets, Mazzy Star, Reverend Horton Heat, and Johnny Cash. One thing I feel I should mention is that there's a lot of violence and use of profanity in the film (but surprisingly little nekkidness, none by Zellweger, although she does don the short shorts, or Daisy Dukes, if you will, quite often...nothing like flirtatious, young white trash...), so if those kinds things turn you off, then you'd be wise to skip this movie.
The wide screen print on this DVD looks really good, although I thought the audio a bit soft at times, but there are English subtitles available. There are a number of special features available, including deleted scenes, a production commentary track, a Reverend Horton Heat music video, and storyboard comparisons (you get to see the original storyboard and then the actual scene from the film side by side)