Dollar for the Dead [1998]

The shaded face of a mysterious stranger fills the screen as a gunslinger enters the saloon deep in the background. A bright but plaintive trumpet moans out a melody to the accompaniment of a strumming guitar. The stranger drops his shot glass and fires, catching the drink before it hits the floor. Ah, the operatic excess of the spaghetti Western... But wait, is that Emilio Estevez hiding under that Spanish brim? Gene Quintano's made-for-cable homage to the mercenary Westerns of Sergio Leone and his ilk doesn't have the wide screen, the Spanish deserts, or the magnetic, squinting presence of Clint Eastwood (Estevez is a poor substitute by any standard), but his dusty plains and cinematic swagger make for a fun little genre picture. Borrowing story elements from A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (among others), Quintano tosses bounty hunters, treasure hunters, renegade soldiers, and a posse out for revenge into a busy tale of good and evil in the American Southwest. Quintano soon tosses the measured pacing of Leone for a rat-a-tat-tat narrative sparkled with trappings of John Woo: flying bodies in slow motion, unending hails of bullets pouring through six-shooters, and a one-man killing machine taking on small armies single-handedly. It won't replace the Eastwood-Leone classics, but it's a surprisingly fun tribute that strikes just the right balance between reverence and grandiloquence. --Sean Axmaker

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