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2 & 1/2 Stars: REVENGE Is Best Viewed 'Cold',
This review is from: Wyatt Earp's Revenge (DVD)
The story of Wyatt Earp has been a popular fascination for people throughout the years. Certainly, anyone who's heard of the `Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' knows there's a bit more to the story of the famous lawman - several great loves, a whole cadre of impressive partners, and famous meetings with some of history's notorious baddies. Indeed, the O.K. Corral story has been told several times - many of them as very successful pictures - but there's even been a television show exploring the man's history, as well as scores of books involving his notable place in the dying days of the wild West.
But before there was Wyatt and Doc and Virgil and Morgan and their scandalous days in Tombstone, Arizona, there was a younger Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, and that's the stomping grounds for Sony Pictures' latest DVD release, WYATT EARP'S REVENGE.
Regarding the story, viewers turning in with expectations for yet another version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral are bound to find themselves a bit confused, as REVENGE deals solely with Earp's time in Dodge City. In this timeframe, there's no mention of `things to come,' though there was a storytelling device that could've hinted more at future events. Specifically, this film recounts the events surrounding Wyatt's ride to bring the fugitive to justice for the murder of singer Dora Hand (a love interest of his). Wyatt convinces some of the best guns in the West to join him in his quest for justice, and his posse includes Bat Masterson (played by Matt Dallas), Charlie Bassett (Scott Whyte), and Bill Tilghman (Levi Fiehler). As fate would have it, REVENGE also features the brief initial meeting of Wyatt and the celebrated Doc Holliday (Wilson Bethel). The film opens later in Wyatt's life, where the aging lawman meets with a young `reporter' for the purposes of clearing up a bit of confusion regarding the past. This structure serves the picture well, and it's probably the narrative's greatest strength.
As luck would have it, Val Kilmer may just be one of the few actors in the history of cinema to be given the unique distinction of playing both the legendary lawman - Wyatt Earp - as well as his gunslinging counterpart Doc Holliday, which Kilmer played to great effect in George P. Cosmatos's 1993 film, TOMBSTONE. To be honest, Kilmer's outing as Earp in REVENGE is more of a supporting role; his work as the elder lawman is interspersed in segments throughout the picture, and actor Shawn Roberts handles the reins of Wyatt in his younger years. Personally, I thought Kilmer handled himself quite well in both roles, but let's face it: Holliday is always gonna chew more scenery than Earp.
As I always do, I tend to try to read up a bit on films depicting moments from history, and I did the same with REVENGE. Without going into any details (as that would spoil some of what gets explored here), I'm led to believe that there are a few "facts" played fast and loose in the story as presented. Some of that may very well be due to the fact that there are slightly differing versions of accounts for what precisely happened. However, I think it's relatively safe to conclude - as I'm no expert on the subject matter, though I've read a few Earp books regarding Tombstone - that the picture doesn't take any huge leaps away from the major elements. I think that when storytellers venture into the historical past, they do have a measure of responsibility to remain as true as possible; I've no doubt that an honest effort was made. Where details have been `tweaked' was probably done more so from the standpoint of spinning a more interesting yarn than it was to be a deliberate misrepresentation of facts. (I hope that's sufficiently spoiler-free!)
However, if you're looking to get the most out of your viewing experience, then I'd strongly encourage you to go into REVENGE cold. Don't bone up on the history. Don't pull out any other films featuring Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday. Don't even put on your favorite Trace Adkins CD (he's featured in brief cameo as one of the notables from the account of these experiences). Go into this one cold, and methinks you'll be pleasantly entertained with this modern `oater.' (For those of you who don't know, `oater' is what Hollywood originally called `Westerns.') It may not be all that grand, but, as promised, it's pleasant enough.
Mostly, REVENGE is a harmless diversion. It doesn't boast the best production qualities seen in a contemporary Western as most of the principles are immaculately dressed and squeaky clean despite riding hours on end. Also, while the producers made pretty solid use of shooting locations, most of the sets were similarly `brand-new' looking, missing the usual wear and tear common to so much of the West as perhaps more accurately depicted in other films. Still, it's shot with a bright palette (again, maybe not the best directorial choice), and the colors are crisp in presentation. It has that "TV movie" look throughout, almost like it was all along intended to be a small release or direct-to-DVD property. Sound quality is acceptable throughout, though there were a few sequences that were obviously re-recorded subsequent to filming. The disc features a single special feature; titled "Riding Along with Wyatt Earp," the short piece is essentially a series of brief interviews with the actors about acting in a Western wherein riding horses was a requirement. Not Earth-shattering, but pleasant nonetheless.
RECOMMENDED for fans of Westerns, though purists will find plenty of faults with some aforementioned details.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Carl Samrock Public Relations, Inc. provided me with a DVD screener copy of the film by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.