Granted, guns are not funny. Killing people with guns is definitely not funny. Yet, It's the Rage is about guns and killing people and, essentially, it's a very funny movie. Lurking among the laughs, however, is a distinctly sinister-and some might even say subversive-premise: Anyone who owns a handgun is either a criminal or a little crazy, or both.

The first shot heard is off-camera, in the dark of night, in an ordinary suburban household. Helen Harding (Joan Allen) awakes to carefully descend the stairs to her living room, where she finds her husband Warren (Jeff Daniels) holding a gun and standing over a dead man. It was an intruder, Warren says, and he shot him. Helen's in shock. Even more so when she recognizes the corpse. Seems that her husband has killed his business partner.

Neither Helen nor Warren could be called a stable personality, but his psychological supports are far rockier then hers. He's convinced she's been sleeping with his dead partner and about 20 other guys he could name. Up to here with his jealousy, at dinner one night Helen tells her husband what he wants to hear-about an adulterous tryst she had that afternoon, all the details. Allen deadpans this delicious lie in a scene that sets the tone for the entire movie: A character's low-key demeanor doesn't mean there isn't a roiling rage inside-and nearly everyone in It's the Rage is filled with it. A pure, unadulterated rage.

None more so than Mr. Morgan (Gary Sinise), a wildly eccentric computer genius and a billionaire recluse who's locked himself up in a fortress-like room with huge computer screens for walls. Helen winds up working for Morgan after her divorce from Warren-whose lawyer, Tim (Andre Braugher), helps him beat a murder rap and sets up the job for Helen (as Morgan is also Tim's client).

Meanwhile, Morgan's former assistant, Tennel (Josh Brolin), goes to work at a video store, where he meets and falls in love with a sexy street tramp, Annabel (Anna Paquin), who, while on a shoplifting spree, also catches the eye of the lawyer Tim, despite the fact that he has a male lover at home-the fey, slightly unbalanced Chris (David Schwimmer). Chris is a frequent customer at the video store, which is also visited regularly by Annabel's fiercely protective brother, Sidney (Giovanni Ribisi), who's keeping his eye on the love-struck Tennel. Then there's the world-weary cop, Tyler (Robert Forster) who's keeping his eye on the whole lot of them.

Yes, the lives of all these characters are inexplicably but quite logically intertwined, although some of them never have a chance to get acquainted. And, yes, each is either a perpetrator of gun violence or, conversely, will find him or herself threatened at gunpoint. More often than not, the outcome is fatal. So what could be so amusing about It's the Rage? First and foremost, it's the sheer audacity of the performances: As Warren, Daniels seems as if he can barely contain his craziness, while Sinise's Morgan spits out his neuroses like quills from a cornered porcupine. Schwimmer gleefully follows Chris' fantasies up into the ether, Paquin makes Annabel an irresistible weirdo, and Ribisi is brilliantly frightening as her strung-out brother. (Ribisi has a priceless bit of comic business in a shooting gallery, which becomes all the more hilarious because it stays in the background, very nearly thrown away.)

Keith Reddin's script (based on his play) does provide a moral compass to sort through some of the amoral ambiguities at the heart of It's The Rage. The characters played by Allen and Forster see clearly what's going on, and while she'll move on in life with some hope for humanity, he's not so sure. As a cop, he's encountered lots of crazy people with guns. To him, they're not funny. And, despite the inspired satire-despite the very real laughs mined from the grisly goings-on-at the end of It's the Rage, this is the thought that lingers: Guns are not funny.

--Shirley Sealy