Workmanlike straight-to-video oater that pulls up lame. Sony Pictures has released Wyatt Earp's Revenge, a 2012 effort coming out this week starring a group of sorta TV-familiar faces such as Shawn Roberts as Wyatt Earp, Matt Dallas as Bat Masterson, Scotty Whyte as Charlie Basset, Levi Fiehler as Bill Tilghman, as well as some heavier firepower for the supporting roles, including country music star Trace Adkins and none other than Tombstone's Val Kilmer as "old" Wyatt Earp. Wyatt Earp's Revenge makes the same mistake so many of these new cable-ready Westerns make―they "celebrate" the reverence fans have for the genre by ladling an unasked-for ponderous solemnity onto the proceedings―but a horse is a horse is a horse, as they say, and as long as some cowpoke is sittin' on one, firing away at a villain, the barest minimum requirements of an oater have been met. A teeny-tiny extra is included in this good-looking transfer.
Supposedly based on a true story, Wyatt Earp's Revenge is bracketed by an interview with authentic Western legend, Wyatt Earp (Val Kilmer), in a San Francisco hotel in 1907. Conducted by a reporter for the Kansas City Star (I won't name him because it's a fairly big spoiler), the interview sets up the 1878 flashback scenario: how did young Wyatt Earp (Shawn Roberts) and three other famous lawmen of the West― Bat Masterson (Matt Dallas), Charlie Basset (Scotty Whyte), and Bill Tilghman (Levi Fiehler)―earn those mythical, specially-commissioned "Buntline Special" revolvers? According to Wyatt Earp's Revenge, those revolvers were a gift to Earp and his posse when the gang decided to go after murderous cowpoke James "Spike" Kenedy (Daniel Booko) and his brother Sam (Steven Grayhm). You see, Earp believed that Spike, looking to settle a vendetta with a peace officer who offended him, shot wildly at the sheriff's house and instead accidentally struck Wyatt's love, actress Dora Hand (Diana DeGarmo), who happened to be staying there after Wyatt made love to her (the sheriff was out of town on business). Now it's up to Earp and his friends to bring in killer Spike, but it won't be easy because everyone fears the political influence of the brothers' father, Captain Milflin Kenedy (Trace Adkins).
It's difficult to actively dislike Wyatt Earp's Revenge...but you wish it could have been a whole lot better...or at least more focused...or maybe have a harder edge to it. As it stands, it's a sub-par little cable-readly B-western, completely unremarkable in conception or execution, and produced with a professional but low-budget (and frankly low energy) sheen that doesn't do it any favors (somebody needs to go retro and crank out a gritty little black and white oater in 1.33:1 to counter all these new Westerns shot in blandly gorgeous "HD Hallmark Channel-approved" color widescreen). I certainly don't have a problem with undemanding genre work; sometimes, when you're in the right mood (i.e.: you want to zone out in front of the tube and just not think), a movie with Wyatt Earp's Revenge modest aims can fit in nicely. Unfortunately, what Wyatt Earp's Revenge aims at it misses more than it hits.
Just to deal with Val Kilmer first. Now, I know it's become popular in movie reviews (including some of my own, if I recollect correctly) to needle once-mighty Kilmer's inexplicable descent into anonymous straight-to-DVD fare like Wyatt Earp's Revenge. It's probably unfair to do so, and it can certainly be unkind (meanwhile, he's laughing at us all the way to the bank), so I'm going to avoid that tack and just say that he's okay here in a largely superfluous role. No doubt, the filmmakers grabbed Kilmer for marquee value; anyone could have played his tiny part...which isn't really necessary to the film, anyway (they could have easily chopped out his bracketing scenes and just told young Wyatt's story). Kilmer looks a tad strange here (more Samuel Clemens than Wyatt Earp, I think), but a fine actor still lurks somewhere under all that...that, and he gives his little tough-nugget Western homily lines a blandly professional spin.
As for the rest of Wyatt Earp's Revenge, well...it's just not very well thought-out or executed. Written by first-timer Darren Benjamin Shepherd, and directed by indie horror vet Michael Feifer (Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield, Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck, Bundy: An American Icon, Boston Strangler: The Untold Story), Wyatt Earp's Revenge takes a look at perhaps the mythical Western icon of all time in movies―Wyatt Earp―and comes up thoroughly short...and I'm not just referring to Shawn Roberts' rather unprepossessing stature here (the old timers in Hollywood knew it all came down to the hat, and Roberts is swimming in his). As the movie unfolds, one gets the feeling that there's going to be some sort of payoff for the audience when it builds to the central story point: Earp's gathering together of the legendary lawmen and tracker Masterson, Basset, and Tilghman.
However, once this is accomplished through some rather lengthy (and dry) exposition, director Feifer blows it off with a brief, uneventful montage showing the lame tracking of villain Spike; it's all over in just a few minutes. That's it? That's the Western "dream team" in action? Even worse, riding herd over the relatively small villainy of Spike is the constant threat to Wyatt and his men of the ramifications if Spike's politically powerful father becomes involved...a threat that is bandied about often, but which is never implemented. How can the filmmakers promise that kind of situation, and then not deliver on it in any way (it certainly doesn't help matters, either, that the brief cameo by singer Adkins is laughably inept)? Finally, it may be a small point, but it's increasingly come to bug me with these newer westerns: please save the realistic gunfire reports for the reality shows. I don't care if that's really how guns sound when you fire them; those popguns sound downright silly in a Western. I want to hear them boom when they go off. Give me the myth any day over realism in a Western...both of which are in precious short supply in Wyatt Earp's Revenge.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.