Monday, December 15, 2014

Fighting gun violence with gun violence

We've just passed two years since Sandy Hook, and I've just seen Odd Thomas, and unfortunately, the two are related.

Based on a popular series of books by Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas is aiming at that ever-desirable YA audience, using the approach of a show on the CW network. It's about a guy who can see dead people and other ghoulish harbingers of death (see poster to your right), but these days, that kind of thing is perfectly fine for the teen set. Once a book/movie series about teenagers fighting each other to the death became all the rage, the sanitization of teen subject matter was permanently put to rest.

It's not a very good movie -- if it were slightly less polished and had a less famous cast, it could easily be Vampire Academy. And if this were a pilot to a TV show, which it often feels like, I probably wouldn't tune in for the second episode.

But the biggest problem with Odd Thomas is not its quality (which is sometimes good enough) or its cast (I'm an Anton Yelchin fan), or even the fact that it relies on the title character's narration/voiceover to explain just about everything that's happening (which is a lot more than probably should be happening). Its problem is the probably accidental callousness with which it handles gun violence.

And if you don't want to know any more about Odd Thomas, heed this SPOILER WARNING before continuing.

Sure, The Hunger Games is pretty inflammatory subject matter in an age when people are excessively concerned about youth-on-youth violence. But at least in The Hunger Games, only the bad guys use guns. The good guys never do.

Not so with Odd Thomas.

At this point I should tell you about the actual plot of the movie. The title character -- whose first name is, in fact, Odd -- has been having strange visions/dreams about a gun massacre he believes is going to occur at a bowling alley. In this vision he can see victims wearing bowling jackets riddled with bullet holes. As it turns out, the site of the gun massacre is really a local shopping mall, and the bullet-riddled victims happen to be the staff of the bowling alley, who are eating there in the food court. (Now, why a bowling alley staff would all go to eat together at the same time, I couldn't tell you.)

Odd's main quest is to piece together his supernatural perceptions and figure out who the shooter or shooters will be. Once he does this, it's naturally a race against time to prevent it from happening.

Which he doesn't, quite, except that he gets there early enough to apparently stop the shooters from claiming any victims (* there's an asterisk on that one for those who've seen the film), despite spraying the mall with machine gun fire. In addition to fighting the shooters, Odd is also fighting a major onslaught of those ghoulie goblins you see in the poster above, but he breaks free from them just enough to run up and deliver a point-blank pistol blast to the middle of one shooter's forehead.

Hmm. Something not quite right about this.

That made me flash back to a scene earlier in the movie, when Odd's girlfriend (Addison Timlin) is randomly packing heat to protect herself.

Whether it means to or not, Odd Thomas is delivering a variation on that sickening rationalization by the NRA when it comes to how to stop school shootings and the like: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Really, Odd Thomas? Is that really what you want to be telling us?

Now if this were just some regular-old action movie with clearly adult characters, it wouldn't raise my eyebrows so much. Good guys with guns have been stopping bad guys with guns for time immemorial.

But Odd Thomas is quite clearly not a product intended for adults. It is aimed at all the same targets -- so to speak -- as these other YA properties, yet it displays an irresponsible casualness about mass shootings that is alarming.

Oh, it's not that Odd Thomas doesn't get that it's a movie with a topical subject matter, and that "shootings are bad." It's that it is completely tone deaf about the solution applied to solve the problem. The solution is, basically, to have more guns.

And it shouldn't be lost on any of us just how young Yelchin looks. He's 25, but he could still be getting cast as high school students if he wanted. (While also playing Chekov in the new Star Trek movies -- a strange dichotomy indeed.) Timlin, who plays his gun-packing girlfriend, is only 23. Simply put, these kids look young because they basically are kids.

At least the shooters aren't kids. In fact, the identity of the shooters reveals another weird topicality in the movie: they are cops. That's right, bad cops with guns are on a rampage, just as cops with guns seem to be on a rampage against America's disadvantaged and disenfranchised in 2014. I don't know that this adds anything to the argument -- it's just an odd coincidence.

I'm not going to get up on any soapbox about depictions of violence in the media (though I did have an interesting conversation with a co-worker last week about gun violence in video games). I generally believe that freedom of speech means creating entertainment that depicts whatever you want it to depict.

I guess I just think it's foolish for the filmmaker (Stephen Sommers of The Mummy, oddly enough) not to recognize the heightened climate of awareness about gun violence and the ways it can be dealt with that read as sensitive. Perhaps that's how Koontz wrote the book -- I don't know, I haven't read it -- but it seems like that shooter could have been taken out in a way that didn't involve such a literal, and such an up-close-and-personal, taste of his own medicine.

At least the mall these cops are attacking is populated mostly by white people.

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