Monday, 5 August 2013

WYATT EARP'S REVENGE

It may just be coincidental that vengeance is again the subject matter of a recent western, but Wyatt Earp's Revenge is odd because it trumpets itself as being based on a true story, but there's very little of the true story in it. Since Earp and his story is one of the more compelling of the west, it's sad that this latest exercise in frontier revenge makes the not very exciting Sweet Vengeance (see review here) look like Red River.

In an interesting bit of casting, Val Kilmer plays an older Earp, recounting this tale to a young newsman. Kilmer, of course, was excellent as Doc Holliday in Tombstone, so one can only assume the worst, that he was cast here as a not-so-subtle way of borrowing from that film. I am not casting aspersions here, because the borrowing takes place on a grand scale, with the villain stealing his killing shtick from No Country For Old Men, wholesale lifts from Tombstone, Once Upon A Time In The West, Ride Lonesome, and numerous other classics, and even, in a massive descent into stupidity, a meaningless cameo for Doc Holliday (Wilson Bethel) which is taken lock, stock, and smoking barrel from Little Shop Of Horrors.

Here's the bit that's 'based on a true story'. The actress Dora Hand was killed in Dodge City, and a posse made up of Earp, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, and Charlie Bassett did go out and bring the culprit, Spike Kenedy to justice. Kenedy was trying to kill Dodge City mayor Dog Kelly, and shot into his house, but Kelly was away, and Hand and another actress were sharing the place.

Here are the bits that are made up: Everything else.

In the film the posse trails Kenedy, who begins a killing spree, and his brother. They are threatened by Kenedy's powerful father, a confrontation which is what the whole movie is building up to, but which never takes place. Eventually, having killed the brothers, the four posse members get Buntline Specials as momentos.

In reality, the posse trailed Kennedy and got ahead of him in a rainstorm. Bat Masterson shot him in the shoulder (he would lose use of his arm) and Earp shot his horse out from under him. They brought him back to Dodge, where Kenedy was eventually acquitted in a private trial which was assumed to be heavily influenced by his father's money. Who headed the posse, Masterson (the county sheriff), Bassett (the marshal) or Earp (the deputy marshal) is an open question. Tilghman may not have been a lawman in Dodge at the point, but soon would be, and was not part Indian, nor had he grown up among Indians. Hand performed in a saloon co-owned by Masterson's brother Jim, and I've seen no suggestion, much less evidence, that she was Earp's love; she was generally squired about town by Kelly. In any case, Earp would spend his entire life post-Tombstone with Josie Marcus, another actress, so the odds on his sitting down for this interview while contemplating old age alone and pining for Dora Hand are long. Ned Buntline, if he did present five Specials to Dodge lawmen, didn't do it on account of Dora Hand, but the evidence is pretty thin that he ever did.

I could live with a fictionalised version if there was a sensible reason, beyond reprising familiar tropes, for it. In fact, the one bit that actually seemed, for a moment, promising, was looking at Earp as a forensic detective, but even that falls flat, since his conclusions make no logical sense from the evidence he's found. And the most dramatic moments, the sociopathic confrontations between Spike and various frontier , which are of course fictional, have some tension, but suffer because of the obvious rip-off of No Country. He also wears a white hat, which is incredibly ironic.They have a bit of the feel of a serial killer/horror movie, which isn't that surprising as director Michael Feifer is a direct to video horror specialist. Even Earp's love scenes, which reprise Kurt Russell's in Tombstone's, are hampered by Diana DeGarmo playing even more anachronistic than Dana Delany, and by what look like very modern picnic benches alongside the edge of the prairie.

You might argue that Val Kilmer looks and acts tired because that's the way his Wyatt is supposed to be, but even tired he is the focus of most of the movie's energy. Shawn Roberts, as young Wyatt, makes Jason Statham look like John Gielgud (see below left). He screws his face into a grimace to indicate everything from pain to a great moral dilemma.  Matt Dallas as Bat is better, kind of like a straight-to-video Matthew McConaghy. Daniel Booko has the plum role, as Kenedy. He's from the Roberts' school of creative grimace, but it works better in his role, and he tries to do more with it. He looks an awful lot like a young David Keith, which might be limiting him right from the start.Steven Grayhm is more interesting as Spike's younger brother. There's probably a better story to be made about the influence of Miflin Kennedy, owner of one of Texas' biggest ranches, and his wife Petra, daughter of the former Spanish governor of Mexico. Given singer Trace Adkins' performance as Mifflin, kind of a small screen Nick Nolte, it's probably for the best.

The ham is provided by Biff Wiff as Ned Buntline, and Scott Whyte as Charlie Bassett (the one who had actually arrested Kenedy before the fatal shooting) deserves mention simply because he manages to convey so well the idea that he's going to be the one of the four to get knocked out the action first. And the twist in the sub-plot, with the young reporter from the Kansas City Star (David O'Donnell playing Saul Rubinek) is telegraphed so graphically that you'd know what was coming even if the Indians had cut the wires from here to Lordsburg. In the end, the only revenge this film gets is on the genre of westerns.

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