The earliest mention of the phrase “the quick and the dead” comes from the King James translation of the bible, Acts 10:42, which speaks of Jesus as judge “of quick and dead” but also evident in the Apostle’s Creed, an early statement of Christian belief, that “he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” If only we were so fortunate as to have had such a judge governing the 1995 Sam Raimi Western, and dare I call it such or suggest it keeps company in the same waters as the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks and Sergio Leone, which for all intent purposes is very nearly unwatchable; unless, apparently you worship at the altar of Sam Raimi.
The tagline is your first clue that the film you’re about to watch is not only implausible and as thin as one from a deck of playing cards, but in place of plot and narrative you are riding a horse with a not-so-mysterious woman (she was co-producer after all) who finds the lawless town of Redemption to settle an old score. We know it is lawless because the previous marshals badge lies in a burnt, long cold fire, and we know there is a score to settle because, well, the town is named Redemption, isn’t it? What ensues is not so much predictable and uninspired as just not very interesting. The entire plot of the movie consists of one staged gunfight after another, played out the traditional way, two people stand a certain prescribed distance apart and at the crack of a particularly well maintained clock, they open fire until either one is dead, dying, or flaps their arms in defeat. This is the kind of story you’d find in the twenty-five cent comic books at the grocery store, remember those? Not the popular ones like Archie and Superman or even Spiderman, the latter which at least turned into successful movie franchises, because those cost more, maybe even a dollar at the time. What we’re left with are little surprises and every conceivable way to cheat the audience with gimmickry, chicanery, and cinematic buffoonery.
I was surprised by this film. Really surprised. I know I had seen it before but somehow I had erased all memory of it – and for good reason. It is within the opening sequence that things begin to go terribly wrong. A loan, female cowboy-type, a little too well dressed and made up to really be riding the dusty trails appears, her long blonde hair caught in every frame like a metaphor that gets lost somewhere beyond the frame. We know she is on a mission and that mission is maybe only obvious because the film begins like a Leone film but all attempt at homage or maybe parody or both is ineffective. The one thing that is certain is the film is an assemblage of every known image, character, soundtrack, and idea every committed to the Western genre. Maybe that was Raimi winking at us from a shade covered directors chair, the man who built his career on the Evil Dead films. If he meant this film to follow in that fashion, to be silly and fun, to not take itself so seriously as to pretend it didn’t know it was preposterous, I might understand; the problem is the film isn’t so much as clever as lame, a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest as they say with some of the worst dialog, one-liners, and plot devices I have seen in recent memory. Even bad movies try a little. The only thing this movie tries to do is not collapse beneath the weight of its own contrariness to be fun or interesting, neither of which it is.
I keep wondering where they spent the $32 million dollar budget. I can imagine it was all cast money, with the likes of Sharon Stone (perhaps still cashing in on her performance from Basic Instinct three years prior) and Russel Crowe (pre L.A. Confidential and as of yet the man he is today), a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio( who was brilliant in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape but none of that raw talent shown through here) who is lost beneath a ten gallon hat, Gene Hackman (who could have done anything with his career but somehow chose this; maybe the money was right) and Lance Henriksen (who will always be Jesse Hooker from Near Dark, to me); the latter might be the only interesting character in the bunch, not so much for what he says but the manner in which he says it, his saunter and wild eyes, the long hair we know is a prop but this fact doesn’t keep him from flipping it this way and that, obviously an admirer of his own charm. One can’t help but recall another failed megaton bomb Western, Wild Wild West with Will Smith and Kevin Kline, among others, but at least with the $170 million dollar budget they had they scraped in over $222 million in box office receipts; I think it was because of the giant spider. I’m almost certain of it.
I know there are my detractors that will tout the intent and intentions of the filmmakers of The Quick and the Dead, the Raimi aficionados who will do their best to sway me of his bravado and sure auteur-ness; I know some believe in parody and silly romps through tired narratives and welcome with open arms the chance to do a little genre-blending, to take some liberty with the uptight film bourgeoisie who do, I concede, take themselves equally too seriously at times, but against all of that, even my own better judgment dare I, a humble critic in a sea of innumerable critics or hapless types with an opinion in the bloated, swarthy movie blog-o-sphere, say this is the reason there are producers and oversight and people who can step back away from the masterpieces of the world and offer gentle guidance to sway the giddy artiste who has dreamed up the next brilliant light in the sea of movie Dom.