Good For Nothing is billed as the first Western shot in New Zealand, but that tourist-brochure distinction pales besides its more pungent claim to fame as the first Western whose hero spends the entire film attempting to overcome a bout of erectile dysfunction. Cohen Holloway’s dusty outlaw is a man with no name and precious little to say. He guns down a bar full of men, including the one escorting petticoat-swaddled Englishwoman Inge Rademeyer to her uncle’s ranch, without speaking so much as a word. He keeps mum as he spirits her away and tries to rape her. But at the crucial moment, as the oddly upbeat score thrums in the background, his resolve goes soft. As he tells the first doctor he finds: “My dick’s broke.”
Holloway’s quest to re-leaden his pencil, which eventually leads him to a Chinese herbalist and an Indian medicine man, pointedly undermines the Western’s hyper-masculine codes, although more as an exercise than a pointed critique. Writer-director Mike Wallis, a WETA animator making his live-action debut, doesn’t share the bone-deep understanding of Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, where the archetype of the rugged loner seduces and destroys more reliably than any femme fatale. He’s just a quick-witted daytripper, scribbling down a few notes on his passage through.
Good For Nothing never seems to settle on a consistent tone. At times, it’s a broad farce, as in a sublime sequence where a pistol duel is prolonged by the participants’ faulty aim. Wallis doesn’t oversell the Stockholm syndrome that thaws the ice between Rademeyer and her would-be rapist, but he stages numerous scenes where Holloway saves her from other would-be interlopers, as if dispatching them were a matter of chivalry, and not simply protecting his investment. One such killing sets a posse on their trail, leading to an awkwardly staged Mexican standoff that ends the film on a flat note. The film’s antipodean locales provide plenty of uncharted territory, vast expanses of untamed land that offer endless opportunity but little guidance. A man could get lost out there, and Wallis does.