Warning Shot begins when Bobby (David Spade) hires two thugs, Rainy (Guillermo Díaz) and Jawari (Dwight Henry), to go rough up a farm owner. This particular farmer owns the water rights to his land, and Bobby wishes to force him to sell; as Bobby is aiming to take over the family business once his grandpa Calvin (Bruce Dern) keels over.
Unbeknownst to Bobby or the drug-addled lackeys, the farmer died four days ago. His daughter, Audrey (Tammy Blanchard), and granddaughter Cheyenne (Onata Aprile) are currently staying at the farm until the will is read in a week. Thus, when the goons show up, they don’t find a weak, feeble old man, as they were led to believe. They come across a mother and daughter who know nothing of the water rights, not even who will receive them once the will is presented.
This does not sit well with the unstable Rainy, so he takes them hostage, threatens to rape Audrey, and is itching to kill someone. Jawari tries to talk sense into his partner in crime, stating that they need to wait a short while for Bobby to show up. This almost calms him down, until David (Frank Whaley), a proselytizing Christain knocks on the door. Things spiral out of control from there, and as Rainy begins to unravel, the body count rises.
Director Dustin Fairbanks shows a lot of promise, but there are issues highlighting the fact that this is his first time helming a motion picture. For starters, considering all the violence and creepiness that occurs, there is a distinct lack of atmosphere for the first two acts of the film. This is mostly due to the cutting back and forth between the main action and the parallel action of Bobby taking care of his grandpa. Calvin then telling his grandson that Bobby can be confident that he’s “…number one at heaving me off the crapper,” has a way of undercutting any tension that was building. Once the inevitable happens and the family escapes the farmhouse, the cat and mouse game being played between Audrey, Cheyenne, and their pursuers is thrilling.
“Things spiral out of control…and as Rainy begins to unravel, the body count rises…”
Another problem is that some aspects of Breanne Mattson’s script aren’t as clear as they should be. Calvin worked like crazy as a younger man to get the water rights for most of the city. At what point did his family become mobster-esque? It is a fair question given everything that happens in Warning Shot. The problem is that it seems, as suggested by dialogue given by Calvin to Bobby near the end of the movie, this isn’t the family’s typical style. If it isn’t, then why did Bobby think this was the best move to get the water rights? If it is, why does Calvin scold Bobby at the end of the movie?
Finally, on the problematic side is Guillermo Díaz’s unconvincing performance. Rainy is meant to be unhinged, unpredictable, and terrifying. At one point, he claims to be itching to kill someone and throws David to the ground. Rainy gives David a countdown, from 10, to choose whether Audrey or David is killed. If no decision is made then Cheyenne is the who will be shot. Díaz is boring as this character. It often feels like he is acting, as opposed to fully inhabiting the role.
“…a rare dramatic turn for David Spade, and he is effective…”
Aside from Guillermo Díaz, the rest of the cast do excellent work. Warning Shot is a rare dramatic turn for David Spade (his only one I can think of off the top of my head), and he is effective in the role. The way he threatens and talks down to Rainy and Jawari when he first hires them sounds genuinely threatening. Blanchard and young Aprile work wonderfully together, feeling like a real mother-daughter team. While this is a role Bruce Dern could do in his sleep, he is remarkably effective here, especially at the end. Dwight Henry brings believable desperation to his kind-hearted criminal character. Frank Whaley as David is subtle, but when he finally lets loose, it is brilliant.
As stated earlier, once the chase gets underway the action is exciting. Perhaps because in the last 30 minutes Bobby finally shows up to the house, so there is only one story to follow. This allows for proper escalation of the brewing resentments, and the payoff is explosive. Audrey and Cheyenne run to the creek not far from the house and are carried away by the currents. This amps up the action and stakes naturally without sacrificing the momentum.
Warning Shot proves that Dustin Fairbanks is capable of delivering a great movie. This is not it, as the screenplay doesn’t explain enough, it takes a while for the tension to start building, and the miscasting of an essential character hinder the movie’s momentum. However, most of the cast is incredible, and once the action really gets going, it is exciting. For a first time director, this isn’t too shabby.
Warning Shot (2018) Directed by Dustin Fairbanks. Written by Breanne Mattson. Starring Tammy Blanchard, Onata Aprile, David Spade, Dwight Henry, Guillermo Díaz, Bruce Dern, Frank Whaley.
5.5 Gummi Bears (out of 10)