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The Quick and the Dead

 

A Six-Gun Salute | John Hartl

This cartoony Western transposes the zany comic-book sensibility of horror director Sam Raimi (Darkman, Evil Dead 2) to the dusty, sprawling universe of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.

Squinting and sucking on a cigarillo, just like Eastwood's "man with no name" in Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, a cryptic gunslinger named Ellen (Sharon Stone) enters the town of Redemption, where gunfighters and other tough guys gather to brag about their conquests.

"You're pretty," a greasy, scarred-up ex-con tells her.

"You're not," she says.

"I need a woman," he insists.

"You need a bath," she deadpans.

It doesn't take long for Ellen and The Kid, a hilariously self-confident teenager played by Leonardo DiCaprio, to enter a quick-draw tournament organized by Herod (Gene Hackman), the gleeful sadist who runs the place and once tormented Ellen as a child.

Herod is also fond of stringing up a newly pacifist gunman (Russell Crowe) and forcing him to join in the gunfights, which begin to resemble gladiatoria battles-to-the-death. He thwarts all attempts to challenge his authority, literally blowing away the competition and mocking braggarts like Ace Hanlon (Lance Henriksen), who claims to have stacked his card deck with an ace for every man he's gunned down.

"I'm in charge of everything," Herod declares. He gives one lackey 20 seconds to get out of town, then shouts "Time's up" and casually mows him down as he's fleeing.

Herod is almost a reprise of Hackman's Oscar-winning role in Unforgiven; there's also a touch of his amused monster, Lex Luthor, from Superman. DiCaprio's character could have stepped out of any Billy the Kid Western, while Crowe stands in for all the would-be cowboy pacifists who try to keep violence from overtaking their frontier towns.

Pat Hingle plays the sexist, stupid barkeeper/scorekeeper, who makes the mistake of suggesting that Stone join the brothel next door. Kevin Conway is the brothel owner, Roberts Blossom is a "Doc" with a past, and Fay Masterson is a hooker who wants to be the Kid's girlfriend.

The actors have a terrific time sending up these familiar Western types - even Stone finds just the right laconic note for her character - and Raimi exaggerates them further with crazy camera angles and visual effects that place them in a suitably unreal context. When a bullet goes through one gunman, sunlight shines through the hole, and you can see through to the other side.

It's a little jarring, then, to find the movie taking itself seriously for long stretches during its final third. Flashbacks that explain Ellen's obsession with Herod echo Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West," but there's no satirical edge. They're played almost straight, and so are a number of death scenes and one grueling episode in which Gary Sinise has a cameo.

Dedicated to the late Woody Strode, who appears in a minor role, The Quick and the Dead can't quite sustain the black-comedy tone it establishes in its spry early.

 

Thanks a lot to Gabi !

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