No one has fully come to grips with the new teen violence — with the consciousness that breeds it. In Pups, the second feature written and directed by the audacious Ash, Stevie (Cameron Van Hoy), a mouthy 13-year-old, finds a .44 Magnum in his mom’s bedroom and takes it into the streets of Los Angeles, where he spontaneously decides to rob a bank. He ends up with a half-dozen hostages, but we’re never sure if he’s playacting in his mind or an actual junior sociopath — or, indeed, if there is any longer much difference.
Like most Dog Day Afternoon knockoffs, Pups has a static element beneath its hot-wired surface. Ash, however, is a genuine provocateur-filmmaker. He gets an energized performance out of Burt Reynolds as the FBI negotiator who can’t decide whether to treat Stevie as an adult or as a brat who needs a spanking, and Van Hoy is amazing, like a Game Boy junkie-turned-virtual Jimmy Cagney. Pups, which had the bad luck to premiere at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival two days before the Columbine massacre, is now getting a nervous, spotty release. At, say, this year’s Sundance, it might have been a sensation.