Jeremy Kagan did not go for subtlety in his first film in 10 years. Shot begins with a video editor working on a western. “I can make those gunshots pop!” he tells his boss. Then we get a peek into a marriage counseling session. “He threatened to shoot me!” the wife huffs to the therapist. It’s not surprising that soon afterward, one of these characters catches a stray bullet. The title, after all, isn’t subtle, either.
Shot is one of those films of which you say, “Its heart was in the right place.” Because as Mark (Noah Wyle), the video editor, remarks later on, “I was just in the way. What kind of fucked-up world is that?” He has a point: He was only taking a post-lunch walk with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Phoebe (Sharon Leal), on a sunny Los Angeles afternoon. They stopped for a moment and suddenly he gets shot near his heart, the result of a teen’s gun going off accidentally. The teen, Miguel (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), was often bullied, so his cousin had forced an illegal gun on him for protection.
Shot, therefore, is a sermon about gun violence—particularly the unintended kind—and the ease with which kids can obtain a firearm. Most of the film stays with Mark as he’s treated in the ER; Kagan uses an irritating split screen with indistinct borders to keep us up-to-date on Miguel, too. Miguel is full of remorse and even ready to confess to police. Then, for the final chapters, we jump five months ahead to see that Mark is full of rage over how that bullet changed his life and has bought a gun himself. He tells a disgusted Phoebe that it’s also for protection, but an ensuing encounter proves that he’s after revenge, too.
Written by newbie feature scripters Anneke Campbell and Will Lamborn and based on a story by Kagan, Shot is often clunky and poorly directed. The characters either pick weird times to say something (Mark, though not gravely wounded, tells Phoebe in the ambulance that he’s been paying the bills with borrowed money) or else just say stupid stuff (Miguel asks someone, “If you get shot, where do they take you?”).
The reliance on a split screen instead of alternating Mark’s and Miguel’s narratives feels lazy, with the bifurcations occurring during important moments and thus distracting you from them. You don’t know which side to pay attention to. And we often see things from Mark’s point of view in the hospital, complete with memories of Phoebe playing like vacation slides on every light.
There is one scene with honest dialogue, and that’s when Miguel’s mother stops him from going to the police. “You are brown,” she says. “You are not going to the police. I’m not going to let you ruin your life.” But the moment is too fleeting for it to count as commentary on the present-day relationship between law enforcement and minorities. And Miguel’s lines resort to romantic comedy standards whenever he tells someone what he did: The words “it was an accident” should spill off his tongue, but he always takes a while before he adds this detail, just like a simple explanation would clear up some wacky mistake on the screen next door.
Wyle is put in goofy positions, such as appearing like he smoked some potent mary jane after being doped up in the hospital or when a nurse magically calms him down for a CT scan by saying “Look right here. Into my eyes.” He, Leal, and Lendeborg do not give subpar performances, it’s just that it’s hard for even the best actor to turn a bad script good. The end is very abrupt and not terribly realistic. It’s followed by statistics and a, well, call to arms to actively support gun control. The title card accomplishes more than anything that came before it.
Shot opens Friday at AMC Hoffman Center 22.