Romeo & Juliet, the star-crossed lovers destined to be together but inter-family conflict prevents them from being so, is a tale as old as time. It’s one of fiction’s most famous love stories that has been told on stage and screen more times than arguably any in history. Its latest adaptation, a modern-day war between rival multimedia conglomerate families in New York, attempts an Edgar Wright or a Guy Ritchie spin on the tale, though without the British filmmakers’ Midas touch, Die in a Gunfight struggles to mine anything new from the Shakespeare classic.

We begin with stylish animated introduction to our Romeo, Ben Gibbon, the heir to the Gibbon throne, a lazy drunkard getting up to no good night after night, getting beaten to a pulp by local gangs, walking it off, and doing it all again the following evening. For this is Ben’s entire modus operandi, his character has no interest in following his father’s footsteps, letting his parents down frequently, more interested in committing petty crimes than becoming anything resembling a functioning member of society. Diego Boneta plays him fast and loose, though this approach is a complete antithesis to being a likeable character. Ben suffers from lacking anything resembling subtext to delve into and comes across as brash and arrogant throughout.

His Juliet, Alexandra Daddario’s Mary, is equally poorly written, without any real substance to latch onto. She is merely Ben’s prize to be won and the subject of an archaic promised-hand-in-marriage to Justin Chatwin’s Terrence. Daddario has charm to burn, so despite Mary being such a limp character, Daddario imbues her with at least some life; it’s easy to see why Ben is so infatuated with her given Daddario’s performance. The writers of Ant-Man & The Wasp are responsible for this one, and the writing issues continue with the remaining characters, though the film’s writing troubles are barely the tip of the iceberg.

It’s evident who inspired director Collin Schiffli on his third feature, the aforementioned Wright and Ritchie. In an overwhelming introduction, Billy Crudup’s omniscient yet unseen narrator guides you through the rival Gibbon and Rathcart families, with names thrown at you without a care in the world. Within minutes, we’re given the backstory to six family members, a villainous CEO, a hitman, and his wife, the conflict behind the supposedly romantic plot, and multiple animated flashbacks to fill in any other details. Show don’t tell appears to have never entered the thought process behind this one, opting for the quickest solution to inform decades of familial drama for a 90-minute film.

It’s possible to achieve sense amidst the chaos. Edgar Wright, in particular, has a knack for fast-paced storytelling, though his style is imbued with so much visual magic to support the dialogue that you never feel overwhelmed. Die in a Gunfight, meanwhile, is reliant on uninteresting dialogue delivered blandly by most of its cast, and any visual flair on show a mere gimmick than anything in service of the plot. Such gimmicks are a frequent feature, whether Ben and his father, Henry (Stuart Hughes) engaging in gorilla roars and chest bumping over the dinner table in lieu of genuine conversation, or imagined sequences are played and rewound back to the present, but none of these elements come across as genuine. It feels like needless padding to create a quirky vibe that doesn’t pay off due to most of the cast playing the whole thing incredibly straight.

Travis Fimmel and Justin Chatwin are at least on hand to perform in the manner befitting of the film’s intended vibe. Fimmel plays a colourful, Australian hitman who enjoys Looney Tunes references, meanwhile Chatwin’s Terrence is just the right side of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker as seen in Spider-Man 3. Die in a Gunfight is at its best whenever Fimmel is on screen as his oddly charming nature works in his off-kilter character’s favour. There’s a clear divide between the film’s script and its desired aesthetic, as its animation, freeze frames, neon-lit visuals, and Ian Hultquist’s synth score are more befitting of Fimmel’s Wayne and Chatwin’s Terrence than they are of Ben and Mary. With so much time spent on the paint-by-numbers love story, Die in a Gunfight suffers from a real tonal clash that doesn’t benefit anyone.

Travis Fimmel, in particular, deserves better from a film with a shoddy script, a hodge-podge of tones, a mixed bag of performances, a bizarrely evident lack of actually funny jokes, and, crucially, the titular gunfight (singular) leaving so much to be desired means this Romeo & Juilet adaptation is dead on arrival.

Rating: ★½

Die in a Gunfight is in Theatres and On Demand from Friday, July 16, 2021