Oh, this movie.
I watched Wyatt Earp a few years ago — I don’t even remember why — and I read Emma Bull’s Territory last year, so I figured I might as well add Tombstone to the list of westerns-to-watch this year. You know, really round out my various versions of the OK Corral and the Vendetta Ride.
Yeah. Not the best idea I’ve ever had.
Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), his brothers Virgil and Morgan (Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton), and his friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) all move to Tombstone to make some money. Unfortunately, they make enemies of a gang called the Cowboys, and things basically go downhill from there.
1. Well, let’s start with the good.
Just like in Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday is the best thing about this movie. In Wyatt Earp, Holliday was played by Dennis Quaid. In Tombstone, we have Val Kilmer. These are both serious hit-or-miss actors for me, but I really enjoy Kilmer in the role — he’s funny and sympathetic and just generally kind of awesome. I don’t know if he’s better than Quaid or not — I think I’d need to watch both movies back to back, and good God, that sounds torturous — but Kilmer’s pretty great. That man has had the strangest career. It makes no sense to me, none at all.
2. Doc’s and Wyatt’s friendship is probably the most interesting element of the story, which is unfortunate because we don’t get a very in-depth look at it. Instead, we focus on Wyatt’s relationship with Josephine Marcus (Dana Delaney).
She is not nearly as awesome as Doc Holliday. Which is too bad because she could be . . . I’m all about westerns with sexually liberated women . . . but I just don’t buy Delaney in the part. I find her more annoying than anything else, and she and Kurt Russell have absolutely zero chemistry. Their love at first sight story fails on a spectacular level for me — it’s artificial to the point of parody. And to make matters worse, their story is a love triangle of sorts because Wyatt Earp is already married to opium addict Mattie (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson).
There are people who really enjoy love triangles, but unless they’re handled in extremely interesting ways, I’m not usually one of them. And this love triangle? I mostly just yawned through it. Like, can we get back to the gunfighting please?
3. As far as gunfighters go, Kurt “Dreamy Blue Eyes” Russell is mostly decent as Wyatt Earp . . . he’s certainly a lot more interesting than Kevin “No Expression” Costner . . . and I buy a few of his tough guy, stare-downs. But Jesus Christ, he also has some of the hammiest moments that definitely belong in a parody. I unfortunately can’t direct you to some of the best evidence of this until the Spoiler Section, but it’s just . . . it’s just wow. I laughed so hard at one point that I couldn’t even breathe, and it’s not supposed to be a funny movie.
There is no excuse for this moment. None at all.
4. Tombstone also has some of the absolute worst foreshadowing I have ever seen in my life. I thought I might have a mini-aneurysm when the ladies, randomly playing Tarot on a fateful night, bust out the Death card, but that’s really only the tip of the cliche iceberg. There’s also the ridiculous lightening, the hideously overbearing score, and, well, the dialogue, one piece in particular that’s just so . . . it’s terrible, is what it is. I mean, a lot of the dialogue is terrible (“You called the thunder. Well, now you got it.”), but this particular bit is such an incredibly ham-fisted attempt to set up a later event in the film that I just want to weep. I know this movie was beleaguered with all kinds of production meltdowns, but good God. I’ve seen more subtle foreshadowing in Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s terrible.
5. What kind of production meltdowns, you might ask? Well, for starters, the first director was fired before the film was finished. Then a second director was hired, but he may or may not have actually done much of anything because, apparently, Kurt Russell ghost-directed the whole movie. With so many cooks in the kitchen, it’s probably not entirely surprising that the film is too damn long and sloppy, filled with random scenes which are completely arbitrary to the actual story. What’s especially funny about this is that the final cut, at 130 minutes, is apparently the shortened version. The first director apparently wanted to make some kind of damn epic.
Epic is not the word I would use to describe this film, not in any non-sarcastic capacity. Or unless I was using it precede the word “fail.”
6. It’s sad, too, because this movie has quite the epic cast. Look at this: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Stephen Lang, Thomas Hayden Church, Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, and Terry O’Quinn. Hell, even Jason Priestley is in this movie, although he has one of the most insignificant roles in the whole film. (Seriously, I know Priestley’s playing a real person, but since his character seems to have no impact on the events of the story that’s actually told, I don’t even know why he’s there. It’s almost as bad as Billy Zane’s role.)
Also, Paul Ben-Victor is somewhere in this movie, and the fact that I somehow missed him makes me sad because . . . Bobby Hobbes!
(The three Invisible Man fans out there will get this reference. And if you think you should but don’t, you’re probably thinking of the wrong The Invisible Man.)
To be clear, I always approve of filling your cast with great actors, even for really small parts, but some of these people feel awfully underused, Bill Paxton in particular. I mean, Sam Elliott basically plays Sam Elliott, and Michael Biehn is his usual, awesome, psychotic self, and poor Powers Boothe, man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a nice guy. But casting Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp and then giving him that little to actually do . . . I don’t know, it just seems like such a waste.
7. Finally, before Spoilers, there is a Latin-off in this movie. My hand to God.
Cause, you know. There’s always one asshole who knows Latin. Only this time, it’s two! Everybody wins!
I’m not recapping this whole movie because blech. I don’t wanna. But we need to talk a little about Morgan Earp and the buildup and consequences of his death because wow, they are hilarious.
So, anyone who knows anything about Wyatt Earp probably knows that Morgan Earp dies in a pool hall. I certainly did — the one thing I really remember from Wyatt Earp, other than Dennis Quaid’s grin and Kevin Costner’s tediousness — is Linden Ashby, flying backwards over a pool table as someone shoots him through the window. I remember because I was thinking, Johnny Cage, NOOOOOOOOO!
But I digress.
Anyway, so I knew Morgan Earp was gonna die going into this movie. But even if I hadn’t, I think I would’ve figured it out pretty quickly, I’m guessing sometime around the point where Morgan, out of fucking nowhere, starts randomly asking shit like, so, hey, what do you think happens when you die? I hear there’s supposed to be this bright light and tunnel and all. Say, is that what you think?
I mean, I can’t stress enough just how bad this scene is. The whole thing is awkward and misplaced, like some additional footage that someone decided to shove in at the last second. One minute we’re watching Wyatt and Mattie look at each other uncomfortably as Doc Holiday makes some fairly inappropriate innuendos about Josephine Marcus, and the next Morgan is contemplating the existence of stars and God and talking about how he read this book on spirituality that said when people died they saw a light and a tunnel and dear sweet Christ, this is the flattest dialogue EVER. Bill Paxton can’t even save it, that’s how bad this is. I feel vaguely embarrassed for everyone in this scene.
The thing is, this idea about introducing the light and the tunnel and whatnot would actually be a good one, if it wasn’t hammered in with all the subtlety of an Acme anvil to the face. Because when Morgan actually does die, saying that none of what he read was true, Bill Paxton really does manage to sell it.
You have to skip forward about seven minutes for that part, although if you watch the clip in its entirety, you’ll also get to see the Recurring Foreshadow Lightening and the Tarot Cards of Doom. Not to mention Kurt Russell walking out of the pool hall into a Sudden Storm of God’s Tears with his brother’s blood dripping from his hands as he cries out Morgan’s name and “No!” and, “Why him?” and things of that nature. It’s just . . . it’s terrible, every bit of it. It is some of the cheesiest shit I have ever seen in my life.
And it’s about to get worse.
You remember when that clip of Darth Vader going, “NOOOOOOO!” came out?
Well . . .
Mekaela and I laughed so hard watching this. I couldn’t breathe, I was laughing so hard. I just . . . who does this in a movie that’s not a comedy? Who watches this footage and takes it even remotely seriously? It’s so, so awful. I can’t even believe how awful it is.
Also awful, although in a different way: how they kill Michael Rooker.
Michael Rooker (probably best known as Merle from The Walking Dead, but who I will always fondly remember as That Schmuck from The Bone Collector) plays a reformed Cowboy who switches sides and rides for Wyatt Earp because, hey, killing people is cool and all, but he doesn’t believe in attacking women. After Curly Bill (Powers Boothe) dies in the atrocious scene above, Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) steps up as the leader of the Cowboys and invites McMasters (Rooker) over for a friendly chat, which ends about the way you’d expect: with McMasters’s body dragged back to his friends via a horse.
Thing is, if Ringo’s men captured McMasters, well, that’d be one thing. And for all I know, that’s what supposed to have happened. Unfortunately, the way it’s shot, it looks like McMasters just decides to go up and see Ringo of his own volition, not like anyone forced him to. And if that’s the case . . . why the hell would he do it? If he’s not planning on switching sides again, why go see Ringo at all? I mean, he has to know he’s about to get brutally murdered, right? He just has to. Is he suicidal? McMasters, you are the official Darwin Award of this movie.
Poor Michael Rooker. Man, you do not have a good survival rate in films. I’m considering nominating you for a Sean Bean award, buddy.
Anyway, Ringo eventually gets his comeuppance when Doc Holliday kills him. There are actually a couple of things I like about this: one, Ringo — who was technically the second banana villain — ends up as the last Bad Guy Standing, and two, I like that it’s Holliday who kills Ringo, not Wyatt. Not just because Holliday is infinitely cooler than Wyatt Earp, although he is, but it’s something else I like in movies or TV shows, when someone who isn’t the Main Hero takes the lead and does whatever Big Thing needs to be done at the end of the story.
So, that’s pretty nicely handled. Too bad so much of what came before it was total cheese.
The movie ends with Doc Holliday dying of tuberculosis (which is a very nicely acted and very sad scene) and Wyatt reuniting with Josephine Marcus (which, blech, who cares). And that’s really about it.
Despite an excellent cast and a few good moments here and there, this movie is awkward, cheesy, and much longer than it needs to be. Also, Kurt Russell’s mustache is really hard to take seriously, even in the scenes where he’s actually good.
Val Kilmer, without question. Although, per usual, I enjoy Michael Biehn too.
Oh, I don’t know. Adultery is cool, as long as your wife is an opium addict?