Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wyatt Earp's Revenge

Most know Wyatt Earp for his time as a Marshall in Tombstone, Arizona, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt Earp's Revenge, the new film by director Michael Feifer and screenwriter Darren Benjamin Shepherd, takes a look at a three-day period during Earp's role as sheriff of Dodge City, Kansas, and the manhunt which changed his life forever.

The movie opens in 1907 in San Fransisco where an elderly Wyatt Earp (Val Kilmer) recounts to a Kansas City Star reporter (David O'Donnell) the events that led him to form "The Best in the West" gang and go after outlaw James "Spike" Kennedy (Daniel Booko), the man responsible for several murders including the woman Earp loved - Dora Hand (Diana DeGarmo).

The flashbacks, which take place in 1878 in the Oklahoma Territory, show the younger Wyatt Earp (Shawn Roberts) and Charlie Bassett (Scott Whyte) investigating the murder of the woman he fancied.

With no question as to the guilt of the man responsible, Earp begins puts together a posse of friends including Bassett, Bat Masterson (Matt Dallas), and Billy Tilghman (Levi Fiehler). Together they set out to bring Spike back to Dodge City to see justice is done - even if that means becoming outlaws themselves when the judge (Lyle Kanouse) refuses to swear a warrant out for Spike's arrest, fearing retribution from the outlaw's influential father (Trace Adkins).

Wyatt Earp's Revenge isn't great, but it works well enough as a straight-to-DVD B-movie western. A slightly better budget would have helped enhance the gunfights, but Feifer does what he can with what he has to work with. I'm not sure the film succeeds in showing how the events changed Wyatt Earp, as we see nothing of him before these three days, but the script does a fair job of the showcasing importance of the events which unfold over this short period of time.

One of the strengths of the movie is how it builds tension in several key sequences. The best of these involve a young Christian family (Wes Brown, Kaitlyn Black, Mason Cook) who offer assistance to Spike, unaware how dangerous the weary traveler is. As soon as Spike rides up to that farmhouse we know its going to end badly for everyone involved but the script slow plays the scene, meaning it might take up a little too much of the overall screentime but this allows the sequence to earn a more emotional payoff.

Earp's plan is to grab Spike's younger brother (Steven Grayhm) as bait to make Spike and his men (Martin Santander, Brian Groh) show themselves leads the posse to the town of Denton where Earp and his men make the acquaintance of a crazy dentist by the name of Doc Holiday (Wilson Bethel). There's something very meta at having Kilmer narrate the scene between the meeting of the pair, given the actor's famous portrayal of Holiday in Tombstone.

This leads us to a final gunfight or two, more narration taking care of the story's various loose threads, and the final (and non-too-shocking) revelation of the reporter's true motives for hearing Earp's tale. If not completely satisfying (the love story that the entire plot hinges on never quite works, and the emotional impact of events isn't always well framed), the film does succeed in telling the story it sets out to impart in a way that may please fans of the B-movie western genre but will probably leave others slightly disappointed.

The DVD includes a short four minute featurette with behind-the-scenes documentary shots of the making of the film and short interviews with cast and crew.

[Sony Pictures, DVD $26.99]

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