"She's a beauty," 16-year-old Connor says to his friend Ash as they gaze upon the glory that is their newly purchased paintball gun. In his feature-length debut as a writer/director, actual 16-year-old Jack Fessenden (who also stars as Connor) captures that feeling, so familiar to kids but forgotten by adults, of mundane tasks being drawn out to the point of adventure -- a feeling that fades once Stray Bullets takes a dark turn. The two friends quote Scarface and Apocalypse Now as they head to the trailer they've been tasked with cleaning out, distancing themselves from the reality of their situation.
In these early scenes the film seems on the verge of making cogent points about how young minds process violence, whether real or fictional, but then the necessities of plot intervene: An initially separate narrative thread finds three criminals on the lam after a job gone wrong. The film doesn't fare as well once this trio (including Fessenden's father Larry, a longtime character actor) takes over, as the young filmmaker almost does too good a job of making the thugs seem two-bit and inept. (Watching one slowly bleed out in the back of a getaway vehicle, Reservoir Dogs–style, is somehow more reminiscent of the Wet Bandits from Home Alone, which is oddly appropriate.) If we're grading on a curve, though -- and seriously, it bears repeating: Fessenden is literally 16 years old -- it's impossible not to give the film kudos for being a not-bad genre exercise that shows promise for its teenage director.