Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cowboys & Immigrants: "Cowboy Smoke" (2008)



While making a modern spaghetti western with a social conscience may be a tall order, writer/director Will Moore comes up with a watchable little flick.

Wes (Chad Mathews) is a criminal on the run from Texas Ranger wannabe Travis (Matt Johnston) and Travis' father, a full-fledged Ranger. Travis accidentally shoots his father, and Wes escapes, after knocking Travis unconscious.

In the meantime, Joe (Mike Lutz) is fired from his dead end convenience store job for obsessively playing a wild west themed video game, complete with a plastic six-shooter. Joe wants to be a real cowboy (the film is set in Texas), yet the only skills Joe knows are what he has seen in western films and television shows. After failing at regular cowpoke jobs, Joe uses his video game skills to land a hunting job that pays $500 a kill. Joe hits the open country with his new employers, but realizes too late that the men get $500 for every illegal Mexican immigrant they kill on their ranch land. Joe bolts.

Travis, still tracking Wes, meets Joe in jail when Joe is mistaken for Wes. Joe was given a gun in a chance meeting with Wes, and uses the weapon to defend himself against his still angry former employers. Indio (James Paul) is the local ruthless immigrant smuggler- a "coyote." He takes in Wes, then uses his power to make Joe sheriff, after murdering the old one.

Wes', Joe's, and Travis' paths continue to cross as the three men see Indio murder and pillage the helpless Mexican prey. This being a western, there is a climactic shootout that does not go the way you might expect.

My biggest problem with Moore's film is all the busy-ness. I didn't even mention Joe's love interest Elysa (Estella Perez), Indio's sick father, Wes' nationwide infamy, or even former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips' cameo! There is a lot of stuff here, and occasionally scenes don't work- Travis shooting his father, and Joe being handed the sheriff's job without so much as a peep from anyone, to name two.

I did find plenty to like here, though. The main trio of actors are all fine. While the screenplay's tone is a little weird, Moore's direction and Stephen Acevedo's photography give the film a big budget look. Brian Satterwhite's musical score compares favorably to Ennio Morricone scores of old, paying homage to them without blatantly ripping them off. Finally, it's a treat to see a Texas-set film actually shot in Texas! I am a fourth generation Texan born in Fort Worth and transplanted to North Dakota, and I hate that "Alberta-as-Texas" crap Hollywood often attempts..."Texas Rangers" being a terrible example.

"Cowboy Smoke" doesn't go Tarantino on the audience, it just delivers a good story with decent characters. Following a weekend that finds "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" the number one film in the country, that's saying something. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get the soundtrack here!: Cowboy Smoke