Hollywood — In 1974 the Emmy Award-winning writing-and-producing team of Richard Levinson and William Link made an unforgettable TV movie, "The Gun," in which they traced the history of a single handgun as it passed from person to person. Swift, economical and devastating under John Badham's terse direction, it was as entertaining as it was powerful -- an implicit plea for anti-gun legislation.
It's impossible to watch "It's the Rage" without recalling "The Gun" because the new film, which has already aired on Cinemax and will open in selected theaters Friday, is everything that the older film was not. Adapted by Keith Reddin from his play and directed by James D. Stern in the manner of a theater piece, it is implausible, contrived and tedious despite the best efforts of a prestigious ensemble cast.
The message it sends, intended or otherwise, is that guns should be kept out of the hands of the crazed and the unstable. Surely even the National Rifle Association would agree with that.
The story is set in motion when jealous, nasty husband Warren (Jeff Daniels) lies in wait to shoot to death his business partner, who is having an affair with Warren's wife (Joan Allen). Warren's attorney (Andre Braugher) gets him off, persuading a jury that he mistook the man for an intruder, but Braugher's character himself makes the mistake of coming on to a clearly crazed young blonde (Anna Paquin). The attorney already has an unbalanced lover (David Schwimmer) who has just bought some guns; and Paquin's character has an even crazier, ultra-possessive brother (Giovanni Ribisi).
What's more, the wife, having left Warren, accepts a job with an eccentric computer genius (Gary Sinise) who lives in a virtual-reality universe and, suffering from information overload, has cut himself off from the world.
Josh Brolin plays a former employee of the computer genius; Brolin's character becomes a video-store clerk and unknowingly endangers his life when he develops a crush on Paquin's crazed blonde.
The only reasonably normal people on hand are the wife and Robert Forster as a veteran cop on the verge of retirement but certain that Warren is a cold-blooded killer who got off scot-free.
"It's the Rage" is too wordy and uninspired, too theatrical and directed with too heavy a hand to play as a pitch-dark comedy commenting on the absurdity of the easy accessibility of guns. Only Allen, as the wife, is able to suggest much dimension or credibility; Sinise's bravura turn might have worked on a stage. But "It's the Rage" misfires badly both as entertainment and as a message movie.