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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Mean Guns Blu-ray Review



MVD Rewind

Blu-ray Release: April 9, 2024

Video: 2.35:1/10800p/Color

Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Run Time: 110:15

Director: Albert Pyun


The world's most dangerous criminals are summoned to a new prison on the eve before its grand opening by Vincent Moon (Ice-T), the ruthless leader of the world's most powerful crime syndicate. Chaos ensues when weapons and ammunition are passed around and the group, including Lou (Christopher Lambert), begin their fight to survive. The last three men standing by midnight have been promised $10,000,000 in cash by Moon, who watches from his surveillance camera as gunfire and bodies fly. Rivalries develop between friends and the lines of loyalty are crossed as each criminal attempts to outwit, outrun, and outlive the other in the action-packed game of elimination. (From MVD’s official synopsis)



The late Albert Pyun, who passed away in November of 2022, is unique among the content-shoveling filmmakers of the early home video era for the sheer scope of his filmography, which spanned genre fads and budget sizes from modest to bargain-basement. Their quality varied greatly, but even the strictest B-movie fan can probably agree that, unlike many of his contemporaries, at the very least, Pyun really tried every time he sat behind the camera. 


After developing his reputation and borderline mainstream success directing under iconic cult studio banners, including Dino De Laurentiis’ company, The Cannon Group, Full Moon Entertainment, and King’s Road Entertainment, Pyun entered the mid-’90s as a STV action machine (often coupled with Filmwerks) and wrapped up the decade with a handful of thrillers starring Ice-T alongside other rappers gunning for acting careers, including Mean Guns (1997), Crazy Six (1997), Urban Menace (also featuring Snoop Dogg and Big Pun, 1999), Corrupt (also featuring Silkk the Shocker, 1999), and The Wrecking Crew (also featuring Snoop, 2000)*. Mean Guns starts the collaboration off with a limited location, limited plot rendition of a winner-takes-all, battle royale showdown.





In the company of Pyun’s other hip-hop B-action movies (of which I have admittedly only seen a few), Mean Guns excels, thanks to crisp editing, lively camera work, and really good performances from a cast that understands the self-aware tone of Andrew Witham’s screenplay. There isn’t much to say about the lack of story innovation, because very few would expect originality from Pyun at this point in his career, but it is a more than capable entry in the chatty, quirky, post-Tarantino, pre-Matrix crime-action sweepstakes of the mid-’90s. Considering how obnoxious these types of films tended to get (see: Boondock Saints, 1999), how small Pyun’s budget was, and the fact that he and editor Ken Morrisey were clearly culling a feature-length film from scant threads of footage, Mean Guns is surprisingly playful little exercise. I only wish that the action had been more creative (or at least explosive) and the runtime been dialed back by 20 or so minutes. As is, the film becomes pretty monotonous for awhile around the one hour mark.


Mean Guns’ other name actors are Christopher Lambert, who previously worked with Pyun on Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996), Deborah Van Valkenburgh, and Michael Halsey, both of whom appeared in multiple Pyun features. As per usual, Lambert sleepwalks through the role, but still manages to charm when it counts. According to Pyun’s commentary, Lambert was hired for five days, but only on set for three and a half days. It seems unlikely that Ice-T’s schedule was much longer (Pyun doesn’t specify his contract), because he is largely confined to a single set. This is all extremely apparent during scenes where the cast interacts via cutaways or transform into obvious body doubles while fighting. Fortunately, it’s not so apparent that it makes the film unwatchable for long stretches, unlike Pyun’s 1993 techno-horror film, Arcade, where he had to reshoot/reedit the latter half, following a lawsuit from the Disney Company, who accused him of ripping off Tron (1982).


* Pyun also made Ticker (2001), guest starring Nas, and Bad Bizness (2003) with Master P during this period.



Video

Mean Guns hit VHS from Trimark in 1998. The only official stateside DVD release was from LionsGate (who bought out Trimark), but it was a barebones affair and cropped to 1.33:1 from the full 2.35:1. The film debuted on Blu-ray in 2015 from 88 Films in the UK and DigiDreams in Germany. There’s no description of the remaster process here, so I’m assuming that MVD Rewind’s US HD debut features the same transfer as those other discs. For the record, it also includes the longest version, running about 110 minutes.


The occasional external shot looks pretty normal, but the bulk of the film is shot indoors and is highly stylized. This includes purposefully boosted whites and crushed blacks, along with loads of reflective surfaces, diffused lighting techniques, and desaturated colors. This was possibly done to disguise a lack of production value, but was also a popular look for hip-hop music videos at the time. This makes it hard to accurately gauge the 1080p image quality, because, besides all the issues already mentioned, the footage has a sort of metallic, smooth overlay that obscures fine detail and texture. What I can say for sure is that the hard edges are crisp, the gradations are soft, and the transfer is generally very consistent, save some minor print damage. I suspect that a higher-resolution scan could’ve produced more natural film grain (even with all the grading effects, grain was likely a lot busier on 35mm prints), but it’s not a deal-breaker. Also note that Lambert’s flashbacks are supposed to look like smeary, washed-out monochrome.



Audio

Mean Guns is presented in its original 2.0 stereo and uncompressed LPCM sound. It’s not a particularly busy mix, but it is a dynamic one, designed to set off the limited stereo capacity available from tube television sets. Dialogue is clear and natural, especially considering all the echoey, concrete prison location work. Gunshots and other sounds of violence are loud and punchy throughout. The catalog music sets an unexpected tone right off the bat with mambo-style grooves (Ice-T’s character extols the virtues of Perez Prado during the opening sequence) and Pyun’s favorite composer Tony Riparetti’s jazzy score continues bucking expectations. There are some more standard-issue, late ‘90s dance tracks, some Morricone-inspired Spanish guitar, and, of course, a bit of hip-hop ambience, but Caribbean and Latin music remains the base influence.



Extras

  • Commentary with Albert Pyun – This track was recorded for use with the German Blu-ray and features the director talking solo about the genesis of the project (sure enough, Tarantino’s popularity was behind the financing), production, distribution and financial details, the cast & crew, intended subtext/themes, shooting on a single location and around Christopher Lambert’s schedule, and the successful home video and foreign market box office.

  • Introduction by Albert Pyun (00:39, HD) – Another holdover from the German release.

  • Interview with Gary Schmoeller (28:57, HD) – The first MVD exclusive interview is with the producer, who discusses his early Hollywood career and training, work as a production manager with Brian Yuzna on Society (1989) and Bride of Re-Animator (1990), graduating to a line producer, the inception of Trimark and Filmwerks, hooking up with Pyun, discovering the jail location (where Filmwerks shot more than one movie), and the casting/making of Mean Guns.

  • Interview with Paul Rosenblum (23:41, HD) – The executive producer chats about working at the Catalina Island camps, where he was hired by Roger Corman, originally meeting Pyun on The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), various jobs at Cannon, Carolco, and Paramount, co-founding Filmwerks with Pyun and Schmoeller, and Pyun’s work ethic, before going into his version of the making of Mean Guns.

  • Interview with Anthony Riparetti (18:31, HD) – The composer closes out the interviews with a look back at his career as a musician working with Drock and Sue Saad, then runs through his collaborations with Pyun, beginning with Vicious Lips (1986).

  • Theatrical trailer

  • Pyun trailer reel – Blast (1997), Crazy Six (1997), Nemesis (1992), Nemesis 2 (1995), and Nemesis 3 (1996)



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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