This plotless, lifeless look at some legendary figures who deserve better is so bad that it earns only reluctant laughter.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Tombstone" may well mark the abrupt death of the return of the western, a movement scheduled for 1994. This plotless, lifeless look at some legendary figures who deserve better is so bad that it earns only reluctant laughter.

Wyatt (Kurt Russell) Earp has retired from law enforcement and summoned his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) to Tombstone to build a socially acceptable business and live in peaceable extended family with their wives who remain inert throughout the movie. Dany Delany plays an itinerant singer who wins Wyatt's heart without a whit of the mystery or presence that would explain the attraction.

Their unlikely dream is doomed the moment Wyatt, stepping off a beautiful old wooden train, catches a handler abusing his horse. Eyes blazing, Wyatt cuffs the man across the face. At the same moment, the camera tells us that all the good guys are spiffy dressers fond of formal black hats, stickpins and stiff collars; one of them even has the grace to die in a white iron bed dressed in velvet and brocade. The seeds of melodrama are sown.

Tombstone, the town, is invaded and insulted by a gang of theives called cowboys who are identified by bloodshot eyes and red sashes, stubbled faces and scruffy clothes. Only the snappy Earp brothers can save Tombstone from these terrible men. That's the plot.

Physically, Tombstone is as we remember it from the '50s: dusty main street flanked on either side by a row of store fronts and saloons. But these saloons are bedecked with cozy flowers, curtains and warmly burnished wood. He who walks through that door should be an Aspen skiier in a Bogner jumpsuit, not a lawman bedecked in watch chains and badges.

We know the final bloodbath is at hand when music trumpets disaster. A ludicrous storm, with Disney-like thunder and drenching rain turns everything to rivers of blood. The gunmen fire their double barrel shotguns at uzzi speed; men scream, dogs bay, horses crash through plate glass windows and throats explode under special effects. It's '90s gore in the 1800s, and it makes a joke of the historic showdown at the O.K. corral.

Kurt Russell has the presence to handle a good script if one comes his way, and Sam Elliot is reliably good; but it is Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, the gun-twirling consumptive and loyal friend, who provides the lone rich characterization. This cast has the style and wit to respond to good writing and direction. They get neither.

The makers of this awful film have the nerve to reach for a final grace note that is a direct steal from other new and better movies. The whole thing is awash in opium, alcohol and money, the silver rush with a Wall Street flavor. The western may be back, but none of them will try to ride these coattails. Where are you Gary and Jimmy and Grace?

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 494
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Rating: R

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