One I’ll soon be a grandpa
All the pretty girls will call me “sir”
Now, where they’re asking me how things are
Soon they’ll ask me how things were
I thought of those lyrics by Jimmy Buffett as I watched a puffy-faced Val Kilmer playing an old version of Wyatt Earp—the stodgy codger who’s interviewed by a Kansas City Star reporter wanting to know about four legendary Colt pistols. It serves as the introduction to a main narrative we get in flashback. Other actors handle the heavy lifting in this 2012 direct-to-video Western, which feels a lot like a major network TV special with a few bloody cable TV moments thrown in for zesty realism.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago since we saw Kilmer as a lead actor in “Tombstone” or “Batman Forever,” but darned if it hasn’t been nearly two decades.
The legend that the Star reporter is trying to track down involves young Wyatt Earp (Shawn Roberts), Bat Masterson (Matt Dallas), Charlie Bassett (Scott Whyte) and Bill Tilghman (Levi Fiehler). At the start of the film viewers are told that “Wyatt Earp’s Revenge” is based on a true story—the story of how pulp fiction publisher Ned Buntline supposedly commissioned five Colt revolvers with extra-long barrels called Buntline Specials, which he then presented to western lawmen who helped him sell his dime novels. Missing from this film is Neal Brown, a fifth lawman whom Buntline biographer Stuart N. Lake also cited.
But as fantastic and unsubstantiated as that legend is, it’s still more believable than parts of this low-budget Western, which is rated PG-13 for “Western violence including some bloody images.” The town looks more like a movie set, the outfits that the cowboys and residents of an under-populated Dodge City wear all seem brand spanking new, and some of the women sport make-up that makes them look decidedly contemporary.
While I don’t mean to pick on a first-time feature screenwriter, the dialogue from Jeffrey Schenck is riddled with clichés and rigor mortis prose. Then there’s the acting itself, which is best described as inconsistent. There are moments when the actors have you believing their characters, as when an outlaw-on-the-run is invited to stay the night with a settler who unknowingly puts his wife and son at risk. Kaitlyn Black, Wes Brown, and Mason Cook inhabit their characters as few other supporting actors do in this film, which is characterized by acting that’s over-the-top or stiff as the 12” barrels on those Buntline Specials.
Ironically, the most consistently believable acting comes from Daniel Booko, who’s mostly done voice acting. As Jim “Spike” Kenedy, the baddest dude in this shoot ‘em up, he has chilling moments and also seems equally at ease with less dramatic scenes. Unfortunately, one of his character’s traits is a blatant rip-off of the coin toss scene from “No Country for Old Men,” in which Javier Bardem makes a man call heads or tails without telling him what’s at stake. Of course, it’s his life, and the same scene is reenacted not just once, but several times in “Wyatt Earp’s Revenge.”
Some interest comes from a moment of 1870s police work, when Wyatt and Charlie investigate a crime scene: an actress who had been given permission to sleep in the mayor’s bed while he was away and she was in town performing. Spike and his brother Sam (Steven Grayhm) had shot the place up that night, for reasons I’m still not quite sure about, and the body is still lying in bed. I’m also still not sure how Wyatt concluded there was only one shooter and labeled the shots 1, 2, and 3 based on twine that he and Charlie stretched from the bullet holes in the door to places inside where the bullets landed, but it looked very Holmesian.
The predictable plot basically involves Wyatt and his friends turning in their badges and going after the killer and his brother, despite a judge’s admonition and the fact that the boys’ father is a powerful rancher who can make people’s lives miserable. "If you're determined to ride into the gate's of Hades itself, then I'm gonna be by your side," one of Wyatt's saddle-buddies says. With so many stereotypes and familiar situations in this film, it's odd that Milfin Kenedy isn't an imposing or menacing figure at all, as played by country music star Trace Adkins . . . and not very well. But even he looks like Oscar material compared to the actors who play Kenedy henchmen Confederate Jones (Brian Groh) and Sanchez (Martin Santander), who couldn’t be more cartoonish and stereotypical if they had been CGI-drawn.
“Wyatt Earp’s Revenge” is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which totally fills a 16x9 monitor. For a DVD and a low-budget affair, the quality is actually very good. There’s hardly any fuzziness, colors are bold and bright, and the amount of noise is kept to a minimum.
Surprisingly, in addition to English there are 5.1 dubbed versions in French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai, with subtitles in English, English SDH, Chinese (traditional), French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai—so this one was made for Wal-Mart and World mart.
“Riding along with Wyatt Earp” is the only bonus feature, but if you blink you might miss it. This fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes feature runs just over two minutes.
“Wyatt Earp’s Revenge” is like a throwback to B-Westerns, with their no-name casts, low budgets, and everything else just a few steps closer to Boot Hill than their big-budget kin. But if you like B-Westerns, this modern-day version might hold some appeal.