Young Guns (1988) / Western-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Jack Palance
Director: Christopher Cain
Screenplay: John Fusco
Review published February 8, 2001
Those who think Young Guns one of the best Westerns ever made must either not have seen many or have incredibly short term memories. I would not even claim that Young Guns is a good film at all, especially when compared to other Westerns in the last 20 years like Silverado, Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven. The only thing Young Guns has going for it is star power, although even that has dwindled to almost nothing nowadays when most of these once hot young actors are doing b-movies and television shows to try to make ends meet. Trying to make a rock 'n roll Western to appeal to the kids who probably can't stand them would seem like a nifty idea, yet after seeing the results, I'm amazed someone thought we'd need a sequel because people clamored for more.
Most of the action takes place in New Mexico in 1878, where a group of troubles young outlaws have been gathered together by an educated British man to work, and also to learn how to read and write, and hopefully become productive citizens. However, another much more powerful rancher names Lawrence G. Murphy (Palance, The Professionals) doesn't take well to competition, and does everything he can to try to drive him out of the area, eventually finding it better to just kill him in cold blood. The young pupils form themselves into the Regulators, having been deputized by the cowardly local sheriff to fight back against Murphy's tyranny, including the infamous Billy the Kid (Estevez, Stakeout), who thinks it better to gun the men down than arrest them for trial.
Young Guns stars the Frat pack of the Brat pack, and appears mostly like a group of guys getting together to play dress up. Filming a group of young boys playing "cowboys and Indians" would probably deliver a plot just as elaborate, and maybe a higher level of believability. Although the cast seems to be having a good time, they still manage to take their roles with some seriousness, although the terrible accents and dialogue they throw about (like the word "geek") make you realize the level of effort that is mostly lacking throughout most of the movie.
Young Guns was written by John Fusco, who has done some quality writing with other films like Crossroads and Thunderheart, and should get credit for much of the reason the film has even a smidge of credibility. Some of the plotline and turns of events within the movie do manage to keep a viewer's interest even if the level of intellectual stimulation is mostly vacant. Other than the hunky but miscast stars, the main reason why Young Guns ultimately fails is due to some bland direction by Christopher Cain, director of such cinematic gems as The Principal and The Next Karate Kid. It feels like a rather lackadaisical effort, with a particularly bad finale that defies logic, reason and even a sense of style.
Young Guns is of interest only to fans of the stars who are nostalgic to see their Eighties faves together having a grand old time yukking it up on horses. Fans of Westerns will probably also have a good time laughing at how dumb it is, and how wussy the cast is compared to the strong presence of The Duke or Clint. Resurrecting the Western is a noble undertaking, and later films like Unforgiven and Dances with Wolves proved there was still gold to be mined from the long dormant genre. Young Guns may have gotten to that mine first but didn't bother bringing the pick-axes or shovels.
©2001 Vince Leo