Young Guns Movie Review
Fifteen years later (as the film is reissued on an indulgent Special Edition DVD set, complete with commentary track from three of the less-busy stars), everything in Young Guns feels wrong. The cheap sawdust sets, the dust-free costumes (except for tobacco chompin' Dermot Mulroney, who is "Pigpen" to the rest of the Peanuts Gang cast), the barely awake performances by Yoda-like mentor Terence Stamp and bad guy Jack Palance, and the flat-out arrogance of some of the cast members. At the time, they may have been the masters of the universe -- emblematic success stories of the Reagan era. Now, Emilio Estevez's Billy the Kid is a cute nihilist, a maniac winking at the camera to let us know deep down, he's really svelte Emilio.
Individual talents have stood out over the years. Kiefer Sutherland has done it all, from character acting to currently bringing hangdog intensity to 24, but Young Guns doesn't do him much justice. He's not really given a character to play, but a type. "Doc" Skurlock is the nice guy to Estevez's crazy guy, and Lou Diamond Phillips is the dime store Indian (complete with fortune cookie wisdom), and Casey Siemaszko... well, Casey wasn't as good looking as the other boys, so he might as well be hanging a noose around his neck the whole time, or a sign reading "EXPENDABLE."
But the plot: New Mexico in 1878 circa 1988, Billy the Kid forms his gang of bank robbers and gunmen after their father figure (Stamp) is blown away by a sadistic rancher (Palance). The rest of the movie follows our boys' trip across the desert, stopping for romance and bloodletting along the way, until they can finally empty some hot lead into the bad guy. And somehow, they get misconstrued as heroes along the way. Underneath the killing machines are good wholesome boys. Kind of like Rambo... and kind of like Oliver North, come to think of it.
God, what is it about the '80s? The cheap score in movies like Young Guns is so lousy, it's embarrassing to think we tolerated that crap when I was in high school. And you don't have to be a John Ford purist to admit that the movie doesn't follow the rhythms, pacing, textures, and American spirit of the westerns (or even the "kill 'em all" moment-to-moment bloodletting of Sam Peckinpah). Young Guns is really Brat Pack Goes West, which means it's about a fad. And that fad is over, and now we look back on it and say, "What the hell were they (we) thinking?" I can only presume the commercial pop rock of Britney Spears/Mandy Moore/Justin Timberlake (all involved in movie deals) will go down the same sour, embarrassing path.
As for whether there's any doubt left that we don't want it, we don't need it, and we're sick of the thought of western stories stupefied down for our generation, I give you the box office disaster American Outlaws. There are side pleasures to be found, though, in going back and reliving the bad parts of the '80s. A rental of Young Guns lets us know that at least we're out of Reaganomics and the movies it spawned (now we're suffering through The Burning Bush, American Idol, Joe Millionaire, and lots of sequels). But a note to kitsch fans: Jon Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" doesn't figure into the original Young Guns... that was reserved for Young Guns II.