Gun and a Hotel Bible: Distant Reading, by David Bax
Gun and a Hotel Bible, directed by Raja Gosnell and Alicia Joy LeBlanc, opens with a monologue, a guy named Pete (Bradley Gosnell) recounting directly to the audience the story of how he met the woman he loves. The bitterness in his voice is how you know the relationship didn’t end well but the ham-handed language and the sweaty delivery are how you know this movie is based on a play and not a very good one. And things only get worse when the monologue turns into a dialogue.
Pete checks himself into a crummy hotel in downtown Chicago, makes sure his gun is loaded and waits, repeatedly peering out the window at the parking lot below. But he’s not alone. There’s a Gideon bible on the nightstand and a man, Gid (Daniel Floren; along with Bradley Gosnell, the play and movie’s cowriter), the personification of that good book, next to it. Pete, as it turns out, is pretty well read when it comes to scripture so, for the rest of the movie, he and Gid have it out in a histrionic and overcooked reenactment of Pete’s internal debate about what God might have to say about Pete’s plans for the evening.
Raja Gosnell is a studio hand best known for directing franchises adapted from cartoons (Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs). His journeyman skills are mostly applied to keeping Gun and a Hotel Bible from being too visually stagebound. Pete’s opening speech, for instance, starts with him in blackness before the setting slowly fades up around him as he describes it. And, during the debate, Gid proves inescapable, showing up in whichever part of the room Pete turns toward, even materializing and dematerializing within the same shot.
It’s a decent trick (and one that Raja Gosnell could probably execute in his sleep) but it also adds to one of Gun and a Hotel Bible‘s biggest problems. Namely, Gid–the bible itself–is really annoying. In a black suit and brown shoes, he comes across like a cheap, desperate salesman, which can’t have been intentional for a film that clearly wants him to represent a persuasive argument. He also asks Pete of the present day world outside, “Is Batman still a thing?”, a phrasing which is not only hackneyed but also at odds with Gid’s supposed lack of pop cultural awareness.
But then, of course, Gid is really just an avatar for the internal debate going on inside Pete’s head. Yet Pete is no less a stand-in for set of talking points than Gid is. The title’s suggestion that we are going to see a face-off between a bible and a literal gun turns out to be not quite true but Pete might as well be an inanimate object for how perfunctory his contentions are. Watching an actual scriptural debate would be less insufferable simply by virtue of including two people.
It’s not within my wheelhouse (or my interest) to ponder the merits of the biblical questions raised here, like whether morality is fixed or relative or whether context or faith make the bible more useful. This is apart from the fact that the dialectic deck is stacked by both characters being aware that Pete’s intentions are immoral to begin with. But I do know that Gun and a Hotel Bible is weak drama. It’s what happens when something aspiring to be Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited springs from a less experienced and less imaginative mind.