Monday, September 17, 2012

Stung: "Dead Man's Revenge" (1994)

The opening ten minutes of this 1994 western are very intense and very violent, drawing the line between our hero and our villain...then the film descends into a dopey wannabe comedy a la "The Sting," and never recovers.

I cannot discuss the plot much because of all the surprise endings and twists and turns, but here are the basics in a nutshell: Michael Ironside is a landowner whose spread is coveted by Bruce Dern, a railroad speculator. Dern kills Ironside's wife and child, and throws Ironside into jail. Years later, Ironside escapes and is tracked by bounty hunter Vondie Curtis-Hall and U.S. marshal Keith Coulouris, who has the nicest hair of any man in any western.

Curtis-Hall kills Ironside and collects the bounty from Dern, but wait, read the film's title! Ironside is alive, and Coulouris is really his son. It seems Curtis-Hall and Ironside have teamed up to stick it to Dern, and Coulouris may not side with family when it comes to bringing Dern in according to the law.

What follows is a very complicated con game as other cast members are revealed to be in on the whole plan to get Dern, but have troubles trying to keep ahead of the rich railroad magnate. Doug McClure is along as one of Dern's clumsy henchmen in one of his last, and most embarrassing, roles. The murder of Ironside's family in the opening minutes leads the viewer to think this will be an intense and horrific revenge drama.

This gloom is easy to get into, as Curtis-Hall is also no smiles as the "bounty hunter." The plot takes this one hundred and eighty degree turn into winking comedy, and never recovers that dramatic tension again. Ironside is so intense, he rarely seems to be in on the joke. Curtis-Hall is harassed in the beginning of the film because he is black, but this subplot is dropped in favor of unfunny Newman and Redford-type antics. The film holds no surprises, and eventually you might think things would be easier if someone would have plugged Dern in the first act.

Country singer Randy Travis plays a small role as Coulouris' boss, and he is stiffer than hardtack. He has a good screen presence, but his line delivery is terrible. I have heard more emotion from the drive thru speaker at Burger King.

Despite some good work by Ironside and Curtis-Hall (who would go on to punish the world by directing "Glitter"), I will have to slightly not recommend "Dead Man's Revenge." (* * *) out of five stars.