The condemned: Dead Again In Tombstone
The plot: Because it worked so well for Jonah Hex, it’s a hybrid of supernatural nonsense and classic Western! Dead Again In Tombstone delivers a massive amount of exposition, almost none of which ends up being necessary, let alone useful. Here’s the bare-bones summary: The film follows an undead bounty hunter cowboy named Guerrero in the years after the Civil War. Guerrero died, but cut a deal with Satan: In exchange for his own life, he sends other deserving souls to hell. Only problem is, he seems tired of it, so he goes for a short trip home to recharge his batteries and see his mother and estranged daughter. While there, a group of former confederate soldiers and outlaws arrive, demanding to know the location of a mysterious box that Guerrero’s mother buried, containing a book with the power to unleash hell on earth. Guerrero has to decide whether to carry on with his Satan-serving ways, or try to come back from the darkness and defeat the evil-minded outlaws. I’ll give you no guesses which side he chooses, because you don’t need one, since obviously he fights the bad guys. This would be a very short movie if, when the bad guys said, “Don’t try and stop us!” Guerrero shrugged and said, “Whatever,” and wandered off into the sunset.
Over-the-top box copy: It’s an “action-packed Western which promises to be one hell of a ride.” It’s almost as though the copy itself is hedging its bets. “Hey, look, man, it’s the movie that’s promising a hell of a ride—it’s not on me if it doesn’t pan out.”
The descent: While the “again” in the title could lead one to think it’s merely a nod to the supernatural element of the story, it’s actually because this is a sequel. Dead In Tombstone was a shoddy straight-to-DVD film that was essentially the origin story for Guerrero: Betrayed by his own band of outlaws, he strikes a bargain with the devil: Their six souls in exchange for getting back his own. But at the end of the film, the devil likes Guerrero’s style, so they keep the partnership going, because everyone wants a franchise these days. While the first one must have made enough money to attract investors for another go-around, the budget is almost always lower for these sequels. Especially for the talent: The first one had Oscar-nominated Mickey Rourke, playing the devil! Does the devil return for the sequel? The devil does not.
The theoretically heavenly talent: This is fully the Danny Trejo show. Trejo has become one of the most reliable names in VOD and straight-to-DVD B-movies, turning up just about anywhere there’s a paycheck. He’s like the Michael Caine of tiny budgets, and almost anything that stars him seems to turn enough of a profit to become a franchise—just look at his tough-guy-retiree series, Bad Ass, currently on its third installment. (Plus, as he laughingly notes in a brief DVD featurette about his character Guerrero, he loves working with director Roel Reiné, because Reiné “makes me look so cool.”) Trejo will likely be churning out films until he can’t stand up—he’s got 27 credited roles in 2017 alone, according to IMDB.
Sans Rourke, the next top-billed cast member is Jake Busey, hamming it up as Jackson Boomer, the leader of the villainous Confederates, with a wobbly Southern accent that occasionally sounds like it’s shading into Foghorn Leghorn territory. Arrow fans will recognize Elysia Rotaru, who spent a season playing Taiana. But the oddest appearance is that of Dean McDermott, he of the Tori Spelling reality-TV empire, who must have had a week off from shooting Lifetime-style made-for-TV movies and decided to come spend it in beautiful Alberta, Canada, where Dead Again In Tombstone was filmed. He plays a doctor/priest (yeah, both) who keeps helping Guerrero come back from the dead—more on that later, I assure you—until it’s revealed that he’s (spoiler) also an angel, sent to help Guerrero back on the road to redemption. With a big bushy beard and his polished diction, McDermott mostly just looks excited to be in an action movie, even though his biggest moment is (I shit you not) a portentous scene where he reveals to Guerrero that he’s been hiding the evil book Boomer and company are looking for beneath his church. “Follow me,” he intones to Guerrero, and then walks... three feet.
The execution: In the brief making-of featurette (really just one of those disposable five-minute promotional reels for the movie), Trejo optimistically states, “I would say Dead Again In Tombstone is going to resurrect the Western.” Left unsaid is whether the producer’s assistant sitting next to the camera prompted him with, “Hey Danny, would you say this movie is going to ‘resurrect’ the Western? Get it? Because your character is—” and Trejo begrudgingly went, “Yeah, yeah, whatever helps sell this puppy.” One would be forgiven for assuming that, if Dead In Tombstone failed to resurrect the Western, its lower-budgeted sequel isn’t going to be the cue for America’s love affair with the genre to resume. (Logan is probably the closest we got to that this year.)
Really, there’s only one group of people who are going to wholeheartedly embrace the milquetoast Dead Again In Tombstone, and that’s slow-motion fetishists. Roel Reiné is a big fan of making just about everything he can into a larger-than-life slo-mo sequence, from Trejo fighting, to people walking down the street, to literally just shots where doors swing open. The doors swing open in slow motion so many times, you would think Reiné was ordered to shoot a certain number of minutes of doors opening. Perhaps one of the film’s producers is the swinging door impresario of Alberta. Even the evil prostitute helping Boomer has to be filmed in slo-mo when she’s hustling back inside, which really seems unnecessary.
Dead Again in Tombstone never met an additional layer of backstory it didn’t like. Boomer gets an extraneous “I’m dying slowly” arc that has no reason for existing. Guerrero’s mother piles on the extra plot with a whole thing about how the devil chose him to get back at Guerrero’s father. The opening five minutes are literally just a guy telling a group of other guys the story of the first movie, ladling on exposition like a lunch lady. But all that deal-with-the-devil stuff immediately gets shunted aside when Guerrero shows up, kills everyone, and announces he doesn’t want to do this any more. The entire film then proceeds without a single allusion to Guerrero’s bargain, save for the very end, when Boomer finds his evil book and crows about how Lucifer likes him now, meaning he can’t be killed, and Guerrero can.
Except here’s the thing: Guerrero dies repeatedly in this film, and each time it’s implied that McDermott’s Doc brings him back to life, not the devil. So maybe not such a good bargain? It’s wholly unclear if he can be killed or not, until he chooses to try and be good, at which point everyone seems to agree that the devil won’t help him any more. But the devil never helped him? The movie perpetually waffles on the subject: It treats his injuries as though he could be shuffled off this mortal coil at any second, yet it also seems to want him to be invincible, protecting by higher (or lower, really) powers. You can’t have it both ways, Dead Again In Tombstone. And while we’re on the subject of confusing elements in the movie, here’s Boomer uttering one of the least-worrying threats ever delivered to someone: After threatening to kill Guerrero and his family, he also adds that he’ll kill, “The people you hate, and the people who hate you!” Seems like kind of a... net positive?
All of this would just be entertaining silliness if there was some good action to speak of, but unfortunately Reiné is of the “incoherent montage of violence” school of action staging, cutting abruptly to create a sense of context-free gunfights, devoid of tension or structure. For all of the stupidly fun little moments, like people being blown off their feet by a bullet, or a head getting blown apart from one gunshot, there’s far too many more badly paced and ineptly edited action sequences. At one point, I thought to myself, “Wait, that looks just as awkwardly cut together and glacially paced as another fight scene I’ve seen recently.” Which is when I began the research for this piece. Which is how I discovered that Roel Reiné is the man responsible for the Inhumans pilot, one of the worst things Marvel Studios has ever done. I can’t escape him.
It looks like it was awfully cold in Canada while they were filming. Innumerable scenes highlight everyone’s breath as they’re talking, all while pretending they’re in the American South and it’s nice and temperate outside. There’s an especially strange moment during the wake for Guerrero’s mother after she’s killed by Boomer’s men (the mom looks roughly a couple years younger than Trejo, FYI) where steam is literally coming off everything in the room, as though the heat lamps were set to “stun.” It looks like it takes place in a sauna.
There’s a reason Trejo became a B-movie star. He’s got tough-guy charisma to burn, which is why it’s so unnecessary to push the slo-mo on everything he does. He already looks cool; no need to constantly double down on it. There’s not enough fun stuff here to make it worth it, but there’s a strange enjoyment to some of the more absurd choices. Still, it’s one of those films where the entire thing would just be over, if only Guerrero would shoot Boomer dead earlier. There are roughly a half-dozen times when Guerrero is standing in front of Boomer, and chooses not to kill him because, what—he’s worried he’ll get shot too? YOU WORK FOR THE DEVIL. This entire thing could have been avoided, but for no good reason, Guerrero repeatedly lets him live. That’s not great storytelling.
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: There’s a small chance, given the silliness of the entire endeavor. Boomer’s men spend most of the movie hanging out in a whorehouse, which is really just an excuse for copious nudity and even a Skinemax-style woman-on-woman bathtub makeout scene, also extraneous. And everything with McDermott is pretty ridiculous. Still, Trejo will probably star in a couple other movies this year alone that are better than Dead Again In Tombstone.
Damnable commentary track or special features? In addition to the two promo-clips-disguised-as-behind-the-scenes extras, there’s a strange gallery of deleted scenes stills, and a commentary track by Reiné and his editor. The tone is one of jovial earnestness, the kind of thing that makes me wish I enjoyed the movie more. They talk about still taking courses, going to fairs, trying to learn all they can even after making a dozen-plus films together, stuff that lends an immensely likable “aw, shucks” nature to the whole endeavor. Then again, there’s also this admission, during one of the totally inexplicable sliding-camera moments:
Reiné: “These are dolly moves without any intention or purpose.”
Editor: “But it makes it cool.”
Reiné: “It makes it a movie.”