Picks and Pans Review: Young Guns Ii

updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Emilio Estevez, William Petersen, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, Kiefer Sutherland

Another Western about Billy the Kid might not have been on the top of the lists of the world's most needed projects. But this is a pretty fair entry in the Billy Chronicles—not up there, perhaps, with the Arthur Penn-directed, Paul Newman-starring The Left-Handed Gun but not down there, either, with Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (which ended in a tie, in case you forgot).

The Kid played a smaller part in the first Young Guns. Here he's the focal point, and Estevez portrays him as a free-spirited, fast-living guy. It's an ingratiating performance for those able to suspend their apprehensions about liking a mass murderer.

Petersen's sober-sided style nicely fits his character, Pat Garrett. In this incarnation Garrett wants to quit the outlaw business and ends up taking a commission to hunt down old pal Billy. (James Coburn plays a rich rancher here, having played Garrett in Sam Peckinpah's ambitious telling of the saga, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.) Sutherland, meanwhile, is a literate gang member who quotes Shakespeare, and Billy's new recruits include Alan Ruck (who looks so much like Keanu Reeves you keep expecting him to say, "Most excellent shot, dude").

A couple of gunfights are so dimly lit it's hard to be sure of who's who, but director Geoff Murphy, a New Zealander, knows his neo-Western fixtures: He makes the forces of law and order as lawless and disorderly as Billy and comes up with a gold-hearted, liberated madam, Jenny Wright.

The script, by John Fusco (who wrote the original Young Guns), isn't eloquent enough to capture the elegiac tones of the best Westerns, nor is it campy enough to be funny. Instead, the actors read lines that sound culled from bad TV horse operas: "Any of your boys try to follow me, they'll end up in a pine box." "I'd rather drink turpentine and piss on a brushfire." And this one for Phillips, the gang's token Indian, who goes all mystical about death and says, "When the Spirit Horse comes, then it's over."

The way we heard it, Lou, it had to do with a fat lady singing, but have it your own way. (PG-13)

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