A Clear Shot

A Clear Shot

2020, NR, 87 min. Directed by Nick Leisure. Starring Mario Van Peebles, Mandela Van Peebles, Jessica Meza, David Fernandez Jr., Hao Do.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., June 5, 2020

Over the past decade, Uncork’d Entertainment has carved out a niche in Hollywood on the direct-to-video and streaming market. In perfecting a formula that includes straightforward loglines with third-tier celebrities – they are perhaps most famous online for mainstreaming Robert Kovacs, a Charles Bronson lookalike who has picked up where “Il Brutto” left off – Uncork’d has found success in delivering a brand of low-low-low-budget action and horror movies for Redbox audiences across America.

In this regard, A Clear Shot represents something of an ambitious project for the company. Based on the largest hostage situation in American history – the 1991 crisis at a Sacramento electronics store – Nick Leisure’s latest film attempts to find contemporary relevance in its depiction of media-driven crime and the American immigrant experience. Gomez (Van Peebles), a hostage negotiator with a drinking problem, finds himself facing off against Loi (Hao), a struggling first-generation immigrant on the outside of the American dream looking in. As the day unfolds, Loi and Gomez both struggle to overcome the more violent influences of their accomplices in the hope that a peaceful resolution can be found.

Given the other titles in the Uncork’d oeuvre, it should come as no surprise to discover that A Clear Shot exists in a constant battle between its ambitious narrative and its direct-to-video instincts. For every moment of attempted poignancy, we must slog through an unwelcome romantic subplot, or a scene of alpha-male posturing between Gomez and his fellow officers. There’s a levity to Leisure’s script that seems at odds with its source material. Perhaps lacking the courage of its convictions, A Clear Shot doubles back into familiar C-movie tropes to keep the audience entertained.

The whole thing might’ve held together with more consistent character work. Ignoring the suggestion that the 63-year-old actor might be playing an inexperienced cop, the elder Van Peebles brings plenty of heft to a middling character. Each other character, though, is a question mark. Without the benefit of backstories or desires, most of the faces we see on the screen seem to exist only to move the plot along. The script’s worst offenses are reserved for the gunmen, who – despite a welcome series of flashbacks – mostly scream at the hostages or at the police in broken English. Just because the characters exist in 1991 does not mean their onscreen representation must be anchored in that year as well.

A Clear Shot wants to draw comparisons between different immigrant cultures and the way white America chews up and spits out these lives. It wants to tell a harrowing story of decent people who were backed into an economic corner. But in the end, this ambition only serves to highlight the distance between this film and even the worst Netflix original feature. And while it might not seem fair to dock a feature for trying harder, well, such is the world of direct-to-video releases we live in.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Mario Van Peebles Films
Run the Race
Faith, family, and football, y'all

Feb. 22, 2019

Baadasssss!
Melvin Van Peebles' son Mario pays tribute to his groundbreaking film Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song, and also settles a few old Oedipal scores along the way.

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 25, 2004

More by Matthew Monagle
In My Blood It Runs
How erasure of Aboriginal culture splits the life of one boy

June 26, 2020

Fourteen
Scenes from a collapsing friendship captured with astonishing empathy

June 5, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

A Clear Shot, Nick Leisure, Mario Van Peebles, Mandela Van Peebles, Jessica Meza, David Fernandez Jr., Hao Do

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle