Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ching Ching: "Dollar for the Dead" (1998)

Emilio Estevez is a nameless cowboy hunting down a half million dollars worth of Confederate gold in this very exciting homage to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960's.

Estevez finds out about the gold from William Forsythe, playing a rare good guy role here. Forsythe is a one legged Confederate veteran who has a holster that contains part of a map that will lead to a half million dollars in gold. Forsythe also has Jonathan Banks and a bunch of renegade Confederates on his tail. Estevez also has problems, being tracked by Howie Long and his band of Regulators for the killing of Long's son. Estevez and Forsythe team up to find the other three holsters, complete the map, and get the gold.

Quintano uses the opening gunfight to tell the viewer that this is not your run of the mill cable television western. You can spot tips of the hat to "The Matrix" and John Woo films as Estevez leaps, jumps, and shoots from the hip in more ways than one. The best scene involves Estevez dropping a drink, pulling and shooting a bad guy, and catching his drink before it hits the floor.

While Estevez and Forsythe shoot their way toward the Mexican border, priest Joaquim de Almeida must contend with the Mexican Federales, who suspect the padre knows where the gold is. Soon, Estevez and Forsythe find themselves fending off three different armies of armed men, while still getting to the treasure. The final gunfight in a Mexican fort is outstanding.

Quintano, who has worked on everything from "The Musketeer" to Police Academy films, does an excellent job in his writer/director chair. His use of the camera will recall those great Sergio Leone films, and he takes the action one step further, defying all logic and belief, and making it really thrilling to watch.

My one quibble is that I wish the villains Banks and Long had been fleshed out more, but this is a minor complaint. Estevez seems physically wrong in the role, but he is not the quipping Billy the Kid of the "Young Guns" series. He eventually won me over, and I liked what he did with a role he is wrong for. Forsythe is great as Dooley, the peg legged treasure hunter. He is likable without going over the top into comedy relief territory. Ed Lauter is also here as one of the pair's earliest partners, and his part is just right. Long has a good look about him, and he is tough. He should keep taking roles like this in order to bone up his skills before tackling the big screen again ("Firestorm," anyone?). Banks does not have much to do, but he is also good as the Confederate commander.

Plot and exposition are spotty as the main attraction here is the action. Thankfully, Quintano keeps us interested with incredible set pieces you have never seen in a western before. This is not a documentary, Quintano lets you know this right away, so as bodies fly through the air and stagecoaches explode, you are totally enthralled.

"Dollar for the Dead" probably could have handled itself in a big screen release. Since westerns are out of vogue now, we must rely on cable television to fill our appetites. This is definitely a good one, and I highly recommend it. (* * * * *) out of five stars.