So I’ve come to the last entry in this short series. To be brutally honest, these last two movies have sapped my energy. If anything, I have to say that Young Guns II succeeds in being even more offensive and irritating than its predecessor. The performances are down to, or maybe even lower than, the standards set in the previous film and all semblance of accuracy is cheerfully chucked out the window. I actually reached the point where viewing this became a chore, and that’s a long way from what I regard as the purpose of the movie watching experience.
The story picks up where the first Young Guns left off - the end of the Lincoln County War. The Kid (Emilio Estevez) is now a wanted man by those seeking to put the violent past to bed and get down to the serious business of making money. Billy has taken up with Pat Garrett (William Petersen) and Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater) now that his old gang has broken up. However, the powerful men in the region, Lew Wallace and Chisum (James Coburn), want all those involved in the Lincoln County War rounded up and disposed of. To this end, Doc Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland) is abducted and hauled back to New Mexico to face retribution. Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) is there too, biding his time in a pit in Lincoln. When the cocksure Kid sees a deal with Governor Wallace go sour, he takes it on himself to break his buddies out of stir in one of the noisiest and most ludicrous scenes in the film. There’s also a parting of the ways, with Garrett breaking away to find his own path. However, it’s not long before the former outlaw is recruited by Wallace and Chisum, appointed sheriff and tasked with running down his old friends. The rest of the movie plays out the familiar old story of The Kid running and Garrett chasing until both men meet up in Fort Sumner. The climax is supposed to be one of those ambiguous, did-he-or-didn’t-he, type things that folds into the framing prologue and coda. However, after sitting through an hour and a half plus of mindless gunplay and hopeless mugging it’s very hard to care one way or the other. In a way though, it’s somehow appropriate after serving up an unappetising blend of bad history that the film should end by wheeling out yet one more dubious slice of mythology.
I already listed all the shortcomings of the performances of Estevez, Sutherland and Phillips in my previous review, and I see no need to go over the same ground again here. I will say though that Estevez manages to be even more annoying this time round; his endless whooping and quipping has the effect of leaving the viewer longing for Garrett to put a bullet in him, and that’s surely not the point of any movie about his character. The addition of Slater, Balthazar Getty and Alan Ruck really brings nothing to proceedings, with Slater in particular proving himself in need of a good sound slapping. William Petersen comes off best in the role of Garrett, but even so he has a lightweight quality about him that’s painfully obvious in the scene where he gets himself hired as sheriff. Seeing him seated opposite James Coburn, who played the definitive version of the character, just brings home the deficiencies. While the acting is weak, the jarring soundtrack against which the action takes place is anachronistic and misguided enough to be a major distraction. A very poor effort all round.
One good thing that can be said is that the DVD transfer is fine. The Warners R2 disc presents the movie in anamorphic scope, and it’s clean, sharp and colourful. However, no matter how nice the image is the fact remains that Young Guns II is a turkey and I was relieved when the credits finally rolled.
This series has been something of a roller coaster in terms of quality and entertainment. The high point was most definitely Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, with the two Young Guns features coming in last in every respect. One thing that has become apparent to me is how ill-defined the character of Billy the Kid is, with only Peckinpah’s film really fleshing him out at all. When I did pieces on the Jesse James and Wyatt Earp movies I noticed how much of an impression was generally made by the characters of Frank James and Doc Holliday respectively. The same could be said here; in nearly every movie it’s the figure of Pat Garrett who seems most memorable. I suppose this says something about the way historical figures are portrayed on film but I’m not quite sure what that is, except that it maybe underlines the difficulty of such an undertaking. Anyway, the project’s been a pleasure (mostly) and I hope it’s offered at least a little entertainment for anyone who has been following.