Young Guns (review)

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Just Shoot Me

Whenever I see someone in a Western pull a gun on someone else, all I can think is: Emilio Estevez saying “Yoo hoo! I’ll make ya famous” in that crappy Western-movie accent of his. I never even saw Young Guns when it was released in 1988 or at any point in the interim until just the other day. The movie must have been advertised everywhere, or I saw the trailer everywhere, or something.

The worst of it is, he doesn’t even say the line in Young Guns. Maybe it’s in Young Guns II. I guess I’ll have to watch that one now, too.

God, this is an excruciating movie. Perhaps the problem is that I didn’t see it back when I was 19 and still thought Kiefer Sutherland was cute. No, wait, I never thought Kiefer Sutherland was cute. But the point is, this is such an 80s kind of movie, full of 80s kinds of actors, and perhaps if I’d seen it in the proper cultural milieu — you know, back when Member’s Only jackets were still cool — I’d be able to look back at it today with a fond irony, like I can John Hughes movies.

Probably not.
The story’s a bit confusing. General Zod is running a Boys’ Town for wayward Brat Packers in an overblown Bon Jovi video (“I’m a cowboy / On a steel horse I ride / I’m wanted, wanted / Dead or alive!”) — not that Bon Jovi isn’t always overblown. Then Jack Palance, who craps bigger than this movie, rides in and threatens Zod’s heterosexuality, which upsets his boys. (Hmmm…) Then: Tragedy! Then: Vows of vengeance! Then: The boys get deputized and ride off after the perpetrators of the tragedy, delivering red-hot revenge on them and their cousins and their dogs and their old college roommates. They do get a bit out of hand, without old Zod to rein them in.

There’s a girl, of course, whom Kiefer (Dark City) falls madly in love with at first site. She rebuffs him at first, because she’s Asian and shy, and because he’s insufferably poetic, and because he has a “big gun.” Emilio (Repo Man) is Billy the Kid, who’s not a criminal at all, but a left-wing activist highlighting the violence inherent in the system. Help, help, you’re being repressed? Billy will ride to your rescue. Casey Siemaszko (The Crew) is a boxer, so why he’s riding with an outlaw gang is a bit of a mystery. Lou Diamond Phillips (Supernova) is their peyote dealer. Dermot Mulroney (Where the Money Is) effectively killed whatever career he might have had by being the disgusting tobacco spitter. And Charlie Sheen (Being John Malkovich) is the one guy with a conscience and half a brain.

All through the interminable riding around and shooting people, I kept hoping for one of our heroes to take one in the gut. And then, when it happened, it was the one I least wanted to see die. Not that I didn’t want to see him suffer an agonizing death, but he would have been last on the list, if we were going to be organized about it.

This is a very brown movie: leather, planks of wood, dirt, dust, horses, and the tenor of the performances. Some random characters run around doing stuff we really don’t quite get, characters disappear and reappear without explanation, secret escapes from being surrounded and pinned down are achieved magically, and wisdom of the ages — like “It ain’t easy having pals” — is handed down from on high.

But get the Estevez boys together, and one thing is clear: Charlie is the cuter one.

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