J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Yarn

Nathaniel Reed prefers to rob coaches rather than trains. As he explains to his fellow outlaws, that way you only have one or maybe two cowboys riding shotgun to contend with. He declines to mention his disastrous episode at Blackstone Switch, but we get the picture anyway. It is all good times until one soon-to-be Hellbent Marshal loses an eye. He will then pursue vengeance with little or no respect for the law in Terry Miles’ Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

After the misadventure with the now one-eyed Woody Calhoun, Reed tried to retire to a life of farming with his wife Laura Lee. Judging the late mortgage payments, this probably wasn’t the right time for Reed to go straight, but his hand will be forced by the vengeful lawman. Receiving a few hours warning from his scummy fellow gang member Frank Bell, Reed manages to make a break for it. Deliberately misled into thinking Laura Lee was killed by Calhoun, Reed re-starts the old gang, but this time it is more of a trio, with good old Sid adding some stability.

Not wanting to sully his partly rehabilitated name, Reed now does his outlawing under the name “Texas Jack,” an alias derived from Apple Jack whiskey and the state they happen to be in. Of course, Calhoun is still on his trail. He and his bounty hunter associate Bonnie Mudd have no scruples when it comes to violence. Unfortunately, the shifty Bell might represent an equal cause for concern.

In many ways, screenwriters Dan Benamor and Matt Williams take liberties with Reed’s already dubious life story, but they never come up with anything appreciably more interesting. On the plus side, Trace Adkins is a wicked likeness of the Reed, as preserved in vintage photographs, but that means he looks way too old and crusty to have any kind of romance with Michelle Harrison’s Laura Lee. At least he some flinty genre-appropriate screen presence. To everyone’s surprise, Judd Nelson disappears into the role of Sid rather admirably. Gary Chalk and John Emmet Tracy also add some flavor as Doc Forrester and Hank Holliday, an unusually sympathetic bank manager. However, Kim Coates is so over-the-top and shticky, it is almost impossible to buy into a rogue lawman gone so far rogue.

Stagecoach is basically an unremarkable oater, so it is begging for bad karma by lifting the title of the 1939 John Wayne-John Ford classic. Problematically, the film never looks like it takes place in Texas, which will be an issue in the Lone Star State (it is officially a Canadian production—and it looks it). It is just a time-killer that moseys along at its own place. Ordinarily, a western fan will have to take what they can get, but the Stagecoach opens hard on the heels of Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence, which is ridiculously bad timing. Only for western diehards, Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story opens this Friday (11/4) in New York, at the Village East.

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