Judge Patrick Naugle is comatose in Elgin.
"I don't care if you are the spawn of hell. I'll ride with you."
The Red Gang is a ruthless group of outlaws led by Guerrro Hernandez (Danny Trejo, Machete). The band of thieves and murderers overrun a small mining town in the old west, but discard Hernandez's leadership in a brutal act of betrayal and murder. When Hernandez is sent to the bowels of Hell, he meets Lucifer (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler), who accepts Hernadez's offer to find six souls and send them to Hell within 24 hours and save his soul from eternal damnation. Back from the dead and angry as Hell, Hernandez is on the hunt for his former gang members—including their new leader (Anthony Michael Hall, Sixteen Candles)—so he can send them into the depths of darkness for all eternity!
The western genre ebbs and flows with each passing decade. One minute movies about cowboys are in vogue, the next they are practically box office poison. In the early days of cinema movies about the pioneer days were a dime a dozen; directors like John Ford and actors like John Wayne made full careers out of films dealing in six shooters and ten gallon hats. Once in a while a great western film comes along—Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, the controversial Brokeback Mountain, the Coen brother's excellent remake of True Grit—but more often than not they're disposable entertainment that run the gambit from good (The Quick and the Dead) to God awful (American Outlaws).
That previous statement could easily apply to Dead in Tombstone, a direct-to-DVD title starring the world's most unlikely actor, Danny Trejo. Trejo has lived quite the ramshackle life that has included prison stints and drug addiction, eventually overcoming his demons to become an in-demand character actor (and sometimes unconventional leading man) in Hollywood. Often working with writer/director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado), Trejo has been featured in films as varied as the vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn to the seasonal pothead comedy A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas. With Dead in Tombstone, the gravel voiced actor gets top billing in a movie that's mostly bottom of the barrel fodder.
While I give Dead in Tombstone kudos for better-than-average production values, there isn't much that really wows. The towns look notably dusty and gritty, and Hell is filled with a lot of stone and fire. Guns are shot off, buildings explode, and horses gallop off into the distance; all of which ring rather hollow by the time the film is done. The screenplay is your basic nuts-and-bolts revenge story set in the old west: six souls must be collected before the clock runs out. Since all of the souls are of the nasty and evil variety, you get no bonus points for guessing how Dead in Tombstone wraps up. The dialogue isn't very clever (when asked "Are you an undertaker?" the back-from-Hell Trejo responds with the old cliché, "Something like that."), but I guess snappy comebacks are a lot to ask from a movie about cowboys and demons.
Dead in Tombstone is the type of movie that casts Mickey Rourke as the Devil himself, without the faintest hint of irony. Rourke chews the scenery like he's feasting on a twelve course dinner at Old Country Buffet—and, at one point in the film, literally dines on Danny Trejo's finger. Trejo is an actor of limited range; there are moments when his growling line delivery feels stilted and amateurish. Even so, I have to admit that with the right material Trejo can be a likable presence—it's just that Dead in Tombstone isn't that material. A disheveled Anthony Michael Hall plays the leader of the Red Gang in a role so far away from a John Hughes movie that it feels like he's rebelling. Rounding out the main cast is Starship Troopers's Dina Meyer as the town sheriff's wife, who looks like she knows that this movie is good only for a paycheck. Dutch director Roel Reine (Death Race 2, The Marine 2) is competent behind the camera, but competency doesn't translate to exciting or engaging.
I liked the concept of Dead in Tombstone. Who doesn't want to see a bunch of cowboys being hunted down by the Devil's bounty hunter? Unfortunately, the end product just can't live up to the fascinating concept. The production values look okay, but with the limited budget there isn't anything here we haven't seen before; when Hell is just a room of rocks with lots of fire, you know you're in trouble. A better name for Dead in Tombstone might be Dead on Arrival.
Dead in Tombstone is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. By and large this is a very attractive looking transfer that features solid clarity and a very attractive picture. Much of the film is bathed in darkness (this has to do with Lucifer, after all) and the black levels are inky and dark. Overall, for a direct-to-DVD title, Dead in Tombstone looks very good. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. The audio mix is very aggressive with many directional effects zipping in and out of the speakers. Dialogue, music, and effects work are all clearly recorded and sharp. Also included on this disc is a DTS 5.1 Surround mix in Spanish, as well as English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Extra features include feature commentary with director Roel Reine, some deleted scenes (as well as a "deleted scenes montage"), a few featurettes on the making of the film ("The Making of Dead in Tombstone," "Horses, Guns & Explosions," "A Town Transformed," "Roel Reine: The Leader of the Gang," "Creating Hell: The VFX"), and a DVD/digital copy of the film.
Dead in Tombstone is competently constructed and decently acted but it doesn't do much different to make it stand out from the crowd. Adding the Devil into the mix gives the movie a unique twist, but it's not enough to raise the film above being a mediocre time waster.
This one needs CPR stat!
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