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Desperate Trail, The

Warner Bros. // R // May 17, 2005
List Price: $14.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted May 25, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

You gotta hand it to those guys who programmed the old TNT Originals tele-movies: They'd always find a way to spark up a Western with something odd or unique. If their Purgatory experiment was Generic Western Meets The Twilight Zone, then The Desperate Trail is Generic Western Meets ... Linda Fiorentino and Craig Sheffer??

Yep. Boasting a one-two punch of monumental miscasting is The Desperate Trail, a two-cons-on-the-run action flick that coasts by smoothly -- solely on the outright weirdness of the lead co-stars. (The third star is Mr. Sam Elliott, but Sam Elliott and Western movies go together like peanut butter and jelly.)

This is not to imply that I dislike either Craig Sheffer or Linda Fiorentino. For Ms. Fiorentino's part, I think she's a seriously excellent actor -- but a tough-gal gunslinger in a blood-drenched modern Western? Nah. And Sheffer ... heck, he was in Nightbreed. That guy's got a Get Out of Jail Free card that doesn't expire til 2008.

So here's the drill: Sheffer is a smooth-talkin' pistol-slingin' outlaw of the most charming sort. (Well, almost.) Fiorentino is the rough & tumble cow-gal who's being hunted down by the gravel-faced lawman known as Sam Elliott. Through a series of gunbarrel incidents too numerous to recount, Fiorentino and Sheffer find themselves as unwitting partners in crime. And, of course, Sam Elliott wants nothing more than to kill the both of 'em.

There are the requisite bags of money, swinging nooses, and pissed-off posses to contend with, but our odd couple outlaws are consistently able to stay one step ahead of the law. So don't even think about expecting anything new or noteworthy out of The Desperate Trail -- but it's still kinda fun in a "this is stupid but I'm enjoying it anyway" vibe.

One thing that proves to be a consistent kick in the flick's shins is director P.J. Pesce. Far be it from me to talk smack about the filmmaker who would eventually go on to helm Sniper 3, but the directorial style of The Desperate Trail could best be described as, well, confused. There are way too many edits for no good reason, the subject of any particular scene may be wandering off-camera somewhere, and the action sequences are laden with pointless bouts of slo-mo silliness and "show it again" stutter steps of redundancy.

On the other hand, The Desperate Trail is more than generous with its violence; the gunfights are frequent and plentiful, and Mr. Pesce doesn't shy away from showing what sort of damage can be done when a bullet meets a face.

Call it a push: The Desperate Trail would rank about 34,576th on a list of "Most Original Western Movies," but it's also got the rather improbable pairing of Sheffer & Fiorentino, the always admirably scruffy Sam Elliott as a killer with a grudge, and more chases, escapes, and bullet-holes than any Western fan could reasonably ask for. If something like The Outlaw Josey Wales is a steak, and something like Silverado is a big bowl of ice cream, then The Desperate Trail is a fresh bag of M&Ms. (Not the big bag. The one that costs 59 cents.)

The DVD

Video: Well, the Fullscreen I can forgive, of course, because The Desperate Trail was originally made for cable TV. But the transfer here is actually quite unseemly. Full of flecks and shadows and generic murk, it makes the similarly-produced Purgatory DVD look like a Criterion release. And the Purgatory transfer wasn't exactly spun gold, mind you.

Audio: We have mono! Yes, the sweet and luxurious Dolby Mono track, in your choice of English, French, or Spanish. English captions are offered should you need 'em.

Extras: A promo for two other TNT Westerns: Purgatory and Last Stand at Saber River.

Final Thoughts

Worthy of a Netflix rental if you're desperately in need of a Western fix ... and you've already seen just about every Western ever made. Members of the Sam Elliot Fan Club should take special note; he plays an especially brutal bastard in this movie -- and he's the good guy!

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