Guerrero (Danny Trejo) and his half-brother, Red Cavanaugh (Anthony Michael Hall) are two of the most dangerous guns in the West. Together with five other men -- Snake (Edward Akrout), Ramos (Ronan Summers), Baptiste (Emil Hostina), Darko (Ovidiu Niculescu), and Washington (Radu Micu) -- they form the deadly Blackwater gang, wanted for a laundry list of killings and robberies. After Guerrero breaks Red out of prison, Red outlines their newest target: the city of Edendale, where the locals have just struck gold. The gang rolls into town, pulls off the heist, and is ready to go when Red decides his jail time, which Guerrero was responsible for, weighs more heavily on his shoulders than he initially claims. He and the rest of the gang pump Guerrero full of bullets, sending him to Hell, where the devil (Mickey Rourke) intends to take his soul. Instead, Guerrero makes a deal: bring Lucifer the souls of his six former teammates in 24 hours instead, and Guerrero can keep his own.
Dead in Tombstone really ought to be more fun than it is. Not only is Trejo a reliably gruff and weathered presence in any action movie, but he's perfectly suited to a full-blown western, where his trademark growl and leathery face suggest a meaner Eastwood. The supernatural revenge angle gives the simple plot a little bit of 21st century flavor, and the other members of the cast could make for a fun time as well (anyone who's seen Hall's episode of "Community" knows he could chew into a B-movie villain, and Dina Meyer also pops in to play the role of another woman affected by Blackwater during their violent transformation of Edendale into Tombstone, where Red is the sheriff). Sadly, the directorial mastermind behind this picture is Roel Reine (12 Rounds 2: Reloaded), whose completely lifeless execution simply sucks all the fun out of this direct-to-video feature.
For a guy who keeps getting hired to direct these kinds of movies, Reine is really not very good at shooting exciting action sequences. As outlined in the disc's extras, Reine likes to shoot with multiple cameras at once, all handheld, to capture the action in less takes, gathering masters and coverage at once. Although the cast praises this technique, it's exactly what's wrong with these sequences. Not only is Reine's style too loose to get a sense of what's happening most of the time, but it's also not even fast enough to create the psychological illusion of energy. Cramped shots of Trejo firing guns and punching bob up and down listlessly, lazily paired with shots of other guys shooting or punching back. Reine's action shots are so free of anything resembling narrative that they're actually below criticisms about action geography. There's not enough information in the shots to say he's not conveying them properly.
Worse, Reine doesn't seem to know how to direct his talented cast. For the first 20 minutes Trejo is surprisingly wooden, with his trademark throaty rasp stumbling over unnecessarily formal sentences and declarations. When he rises from the grave, he settles into the role a bit more, but the script is short on one-liners or style that would make the goings on more fun. Dina Meyer exhibits more spark, but she's underutilized and finally relegated to little more than a boring damsel-in-distress role when Red starts using her character Calathea as bait for Guerrero (why she doesn't fight in the exact same way she's been doing the whole movie prior, and even does in one scene in the middle of her captivity, is beyond me). Rourke, scraping the bottom of the investment barrel, shows off a new layer of plastic surgery and allows most of his role to be dubbed by another unnamed actor, only using his real voice when wandering the world of the living.
Although the film picks up a little once the killings start, Dead in Tombstone takes a great idea and flushes it down the toilet through basic ineptitude. All it would take for the film to be worth a watch is some entertaining action sequences, a handful of good Trejo one-liners, and a shorter runtime. Hopefully some other low-budget filmmakers will see Tombstone and write Trejo a better western -- by the time a quick-draw contest devolves into reheated Matrix theatrics with the Devil bending bullet trajectory, the viewer's hopes of high-noon entertainment will have long been laid to rest.
Note: this disc contains both R-rated and Unrated cuts of Dead in Tombstone. Really, the existence of an R-rated cut on a DTV feature is just so Universal can slap an "Unrated" sticker on the front, so the longer version is the only one I watched.
Dead in Tombstone gets respectable-looking cover art that gets a lot of mileage out of a simple gray and blood-red color scheme depicting Trejo firing his pistols with splattered angel wings behind him. Really, it looks nice enough that most people won't suspect this is a direct-to-video effort rather than a theatrical feature that slipped under the radar. The two-disc set is tucked inside a standard eco-friendly Blu-Ray case with the DVD copy and digital copy code inside, and the whole package slides into a foil-stamped, embossed slipcover that is also quite nice.
The Video and Audio
Unsurprisingly, Dead in Tombstone gets an impeccable 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfer. Detail, depth, color (even if it's mostly shades of brown), and contrast are all excellent. No artifacts or banding that I could see. The top-notch picture is further supported by a surprisingly aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that will thunder through a living room like the best theatrical soundtrack. Everything from the clicking and rotating gears of a grandfather clock to the howls of souls trapped in Hell are rendered with perfect crispness, and despite the thunderous music and effects, the dialogue is never drowned out or lost in the mix. Despite its low-budget roots, this could easily become a demo disc for those who enjoy the film. A Spanish DTS 5.1 track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
As with the picture and sound, Universal has gone all-out on the extras package for Dead in Tombstone, stacking it supplements worthy of a blockbuster. Video features (all of which are in HD), are up first, led by a collection of deleted scenes (15:58) kicks things off, much of which is unnecessary exposition, repeating information the audience either already knows or can easily infer. Nothing here that ought to have been left in a picture that's still overlong as it is. It's accompanied by a deleted shots montage (5:14), which is exactly as advertised.
Five featurettes follow. "The Making of Dead in Tombstone" (9:43) is the standard behind-the-scenes piece, focusing on behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. Gets quite a bit of mileage thanks to an enthusiastic cast (and a shot of Trejo standing on boxes, pretending to ride a horse). Sadly, it's also a reminder of how aggressively boring the color-drained look is -- one will long for some of the vivid western colors visible in the untreated B-roll. "Horses, Guns, and Explosions" (5:23) focuses on the film's stuntwork. It's always fun to watch stuntpeople at work, and this feature is no exception. There's also a little talk about the guns in this extra. "Roel Reine: Leader of the Gang" (4:28) turns its attention the filmmaking style of the rising DTV director. Probably the most skippable of the disc's featurettes, this one doesn't have much going on but ego-stroking (one cast member compares him to Ridley Scott). "A Town Transformed" (4:04) not only spotlights the wonderful western set where the film was shot, but also turning it from Edendale into Tombstone (or, vice versa). Finally, "Creating Hell: The VFX" (3:09) is a series of silent animation clips, revealing each layer that went into the effects one-by-one. Short and to-the-point.
Finally, the disc ends with an audio commentary by director Roel Reine. Of all the participants in the interviews, Reine is probably the least interesting, but maybe that's just the usual on-set director exhaustion, because right from the start of this track he's much more lively, talking about his love of western, the long development of the screenplay, the budget, casting, and the challenges of getting a modern western made. He also ends up explaining why many of the deleted scenes were cut. Those who are interested in the process of making a direct-to-video feature at a studio should give this a listen.
Trailers for Curse of Chucky, Fast & Furious 6, Machete Kills, "Grimm": Season One, and The Purge play before the main menu.
Although Dead in Tombstone didn't do anything to perk my interest, there's no question about the quality of this Blu-Ray, which offers top-notch A/V and a respectable package of extras. I didn't like the film, but the disc earns a rental rather than a "skip it" for all its other qualities.
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