Jeff Bridges, Ellen Barkin, John Hurt, David Arquette, Diane Lane
There are two scenes in this untidy and tedious retelling, yet again, of the life story of western gun-slinger James Butler Hickock (1837-76) that have a loopy sense of fun missing from the rest of the picture. One is where Wild Bill (Bridges) and Calamity Jane (Barkin) do what comes naturally on a saloon table to the musical accompaniment of "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Who needs Ravel's Bolero? The second is when Bruce Dern, in a scene sure to be in contention for the Quintessential Wacko Bruce Dern Moment, scoots his wheelchair—he is playing a paraplegic gunfighter—down the dusty main street of town, waving his pistol and bellowing for Hickock to c'mon out and fight him.
Otherwise, Wild Bill, written and directed by Walter Hill, is a mess and a logy one at that. This despite its frenetic hop-skipping between the last days of Hickock's life, during which he is being stalked by a sniveling stripling (Arquette), and his great, earlier exploits—including what he did way back then that so irked his would-be assassin. All of which makes us sit through way too many gun-and fistfights to distinguish between them, and makes us lose patience with all the characters, past and present.
Bridges, usually one of our most coolly reliable actors, here seems listless and pudgy, which is in keeping with Hickock's been-there, done-that lassitude but does nothing to perk up the action. Barkin, whipping her long ponytail about as if it were Tarzan's favorite vine and actually saying "purty" for "pretty," appears to be auditioning for a summer camp version of Annie Get Your Gun. (R)