Review: ‘9 Bullets,’ starring Lena Headey and Sam Worthington

May 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dean Scott Vazquez and Lena Headey in “9 Bullets” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“9 Bullets”

Directed by Gigi Gaston 

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the West Coast and Midwest of the United States, the dramatic film “9 Bullets” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos, Asians and multiracial people) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A former burlesque dancer goes on the run with an orphaned 11-year-old boy, whose family was killed by gangsters.

Culture Audience: “9 Bullets” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching poorly made and implausible crime dramas.

Sam Worthington in “9 Bullets” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Fans of the 1980 crime drama “Gloria” (starring Gena Rowlands in the title role) might be repulsed if they have the misfortune of wasting time watching “9 Bullets,” which is a sloppy and pathetic imitation of that classic movie. It’s not an official remake of “Gloria,” but “9 Bullets” copies so many things about “Gloria,” it’s essentially a rehash of the same story, with names and locations changed. It’s truly unfortunate that “9 Bullets” star Lena Headey has gone from the glory of starring in the Emmy-winning “Game of Thrones” series to diminishing her talent by starring in bottom-of-the-barrel trash such as “9 Bullets.”

Written and directed by Gigi Gaston, “9 Bullets” rips off “Gloria” by having this concept: A “tough woman” with a shady past goes on the run with an orphaned boy, whose family was killed by gangsters because his father betrayed the gang. “Gloria” (written and directed by John Cassavetes) takes place on the East Coast of the U.S., mostly in New York City and briefly in Pittsburgh. “9 Bullets” takes place in the Midwest and West Coast regions of the U.S., with a road trip that goes from California to Utah, Montana and North Dakota. The woman on the run in each movie keeps repeating how much she doesn’t like kids, which is supposed to be the irony when she inevitably develops maternal feelings for the boy who unexpectedly ends up in her care.

In “9 Bullets” (which was formerly titled “Gypsy Moon”), Headey portrays a very jaded and abrasive dancer-turned-author named Gypsy (no explanation is given if that’s her real name or an alias), who lives in Santa Clarita, California. She’s a soon-to-be-retired burlesque dancer because she’s gotten a book deal to write her memoir, tentatively titled “Another Dance.” Throughout the movie, while she’s running for her life, Gypsy keeps her laptop computer with her so she can work on her memoir in between dodging bullets.

The movie’s opening scene shows Gypsy on her house’s front porch while she’s reading the book publishing contract that she’s received in the mail. She looks up at the sky and says, “I promise not to fuck it up this time.” It’s at this point in the movie that you know a loved one in Gypsy’s life has passed away, and she feels a lot of guilt when it comes to that person.

Because “9 Bullets” also tries to make Gypsy look sexy, the movie has her doing “one last performance” at the seedy bar where she works. The movie’s depiction of Gypsy’s burlesque dancing is showing some slow-motion shots of a woman’s barely clad rear end (it could have been a body double) and Headey doing some lackluster walking on a stage in a tacky-looking, tight-fitting outfit. Gypsy thinks that after this last performance, she’ll be leaving behind her life of working in sleazy bars and dealing with criminal losers, so that she can start a new life as a successful author who goes on vacation cruises. But there would be no “9 Bullets” movie if that happened.

On the night of this last performance, Gypsy gets a call from a friend named Ralph Stein (played by Zachary Mooren), who at the moment is frantically speeding down a street in his car, with his widowed mother (played by Marlene Forte) and young adult daughter Caroline (played by Stephanie Arcila) as passengers. Ralph is terrified because he has stolen money from a vengeful gangster named Jack (played by Sam Worthington), who has sent some of his goons to kill Ralph and Ralph’s family. Someone who’s not in the car is Ralph’s 11-year-old son Sam (played by Dean Scott Vazquez), who minutes earlier, got a call from Ralph to start doing the emergency plan that they talked about, in case they need to run for their lives.

Ralph tells Gypsy over the phone that he “messed up” with Jack, and he begs Gypsy to protect Sam if anything happens to the family. As Ralph and his family race to their house to pick up Sam, who is home alone, the car is stopped on a residential street by Jack’s thugs, who shoot and kill everyone in the car. Sam is hiding outside nearby with the family’s pet dog Moses (a Chihuahua mixed breed), so Sam witnesses his family being murdered.

Jack’s murderous henchman are looking for a computer tablet, but they can only find a laptop in the car, so they steal it before driving away. A terrified and sobbing Sam goes back to his house, where Gypsy finds him. Sam tells her what he saw, and they go on the run, with the dog coming along for the ride. (In “Gloria,” the murdered family had a pet cat, but the orphaned boys in both movies have a physical resemblance with dark, curly hair. In “Gloria,” John Adames played the role of the orphaned boy, who was named Phil.)

At first, Gypsy wants nothing to do with taking care of this kid. Sam has a clergyman uncle in North Dakota named Rabbi Stein (played by John Ales), who is resistant to take custody of Sam, because the rabbi says he’s overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of his own kids. And then there’s the fact that the gang is looking to kill Sam too. Rabbi Stein reluctantly agrees to take custody of Sam, but the rabbi says he needs more time to prepare for Sam’s arrival.

It’s just an excuse for this movie to have a prolonged road trip. Gypsy lies to Sam and says that his uncle wants Sam to live with him, but Sam senses that she’s been dishonest. Sam then proceeds to cry, whine and pout for much of the road trip. Gypsy does hardly anything to comfort him because, as she tells Sam repeatedly, she’s not good with kids. But when Sam mentions that he’s a cryptocurrency whiz, suddenly Gypsy finds that this kid can be useful.

This poorly written movie has an odd detour where Gypsy goes to Jack’s mansion, with the intention of seducing him to back off from killing Sam. Gypsy leaves Sam behind in a motel, but she illogically takes Moses the dog with her on this visit. She wants to convince Jack that she doesn’t know where Sam is. This “seduction” is just a thinly veiled reason for “9 Bullets” to have a not-very-sexy sex scene, where Gypsy has nudity, but Jack doesn’t. Typical sexist double standard in a trashy movie.

Jack and Gypsy were in a relationship years ago, but she dumped him because he constantly cheated on Gypsy and was too possessive of her. Jack now tells Gypsy that he wants to get back together with her, but she refuses. It makes absolutely no sense for Gypsy to have the dog with her during this visit. The dog is only there so the movie can have a heinous scene where Jack threatens to steal the dog and kill it after Gypsy rejects him.

Jack is a stereotypical American gang boss in a movie, but Worthington (who’s Australian in real life) struggles with having a convincing American accent. Jack lounges around his house, barks orders at his underlings, and he has at least one female lover who’s willing to do whatever he wants her to do. Her name is Lisa (played by Emma Holzer), who helps take care of Jack’s horses. Later in the story, Lisa has one of the worst-delivered lines in the movie, when she smirks, “Never send a man to do a woman’s job,” after she commits a violent act.

Jack has three main goons doing the dirty work for this assassination. Mike (played by Chris Mullinax), the bossiest one, can be as ruthless as Jack. Tommy (played by Cam Gigandet) is dimwitted and cruel. Eddie (played by Martin Sensmeier) is loyal and has the most compassion out of all the thugs. There’s a scene in the movie where Eddie could’ve easily murdered someone, but he doesn’t. Eventually, Jack goes on the road with his thugs to look for Gypsy and Sam too, because Jack suddenly shows up in a few scenes where he’s with his henchmen in chasing after these two targets.

La La Anthony has an embarrassing and idiotic role in the movie, and her questionable acting skills don’t do much to help. She plays a sassy stripper named Tasmin, who was taking a nap in the back seat of a Porsche SUV when it gets stolen by Gypsy, who foolishly did not see Tasmin when Gypsy stole the car. Tasmin eventually figures out that Gypsy and Sam are in deadly trouble, but Tasmin acts as if it’s completely normal to tag along with these two strangers who have assassins looking for them.

Barbara Hershey has a thankless role as a former Princeton University professor named Lacey, who offers her Utah home as a place for Gypsy and Sam to temporarily hide. How does Gypsy know Lacey? Years ago, Gypsy was a Princeton student until she dropped out for reasons explained when bitter and emotionally damaged Gypsy ends up telling Sam her sob story.

Of course, in a silly movie like “9 Bullets,” Lacey is not quite the mild-mannered retired professor that she first appears to be. Headey and Hershey are accomplished actresses who deserve much better than this dreck, which is filled with plot holes, nonsensical scenes (including one where Jack and his thugs easily let Gypsy get away), horrendous editing, and acting that ranges from mediocre to truly unwatchable. Headey seems to be doing her best to commit to her role as Gypsy, but it’s a lost cause because of the movie’s low-quality screenplay and direction.

And why is this movie called “9 Bullets?” There’s a scene where Sam lectures Gypsy, by saying: “You better let someone love you before it’s too late.” Gypsy replies, “I’m a cat with nine lives. I’ll be fine.” Sam asks, “What does that mean?” Gypsy replies, “It takes nine bullets to kill me.” At 91 minutes long, it takes “9 Bullets” this amount of time to kill any hope of being entertained by a movie that amounts to nothing more than awful and pointless garbage.

Screen Media Films released “9 Bullets” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 22, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on June 7, 2022.

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