First-time helmer P.J. Pesce gives a tip of the hat to masters John Ford and Sam Peckinpah in this striking, action-packed and at times brutal oater. Concerning a lawman's pursuit of an escaped murderess, the fast-paced vidpic features solid perfs by the principals and a strong script, with enough twists and turns to keep even the short-attention-span set tuned in.

First-time helmer P.J. Pesce gives a tip of the hat to masters John Ford and Sam Peckinpah in this striking, action-packed and at times brutal oater. Concerning a lawman’s pursuit of an escaped murderess, the fast-paced vidpic features solid perfs by the principals and a strong script, with enough twists and turns to keep even the short-attention-span set tuned in.

Story kicks off as Marshal Bill Speaks (Sam Elliott), returning murder suspect Sarah O’Rourke (Linda Fiorentino) to the local magistrate, gets caught in an ambush aimed at the stagecoach’s strongbox. (The stark violence in the stagecoach ambush may catch some viewers by surprise, considering the TNT venue.)

The ensuing confusion allows O’Rourke to escape, aided by fellow passenger Jack Cooper (Craig Sheffer), a frontier dandy who offers her shelter at his brother’s farm. The expected romance-fueled friction fires up between the two, but ultimately gets extinguished by an appearance by the undeterred marshal.

Scripters Pesce and Tom Abrams have crafted a slightly derivative tale using familiar motives by a protagonist to spark the expected plot pivots. However, the style in which it is presented all but obfuscates pic’s shortcomings.

The chemistry between Fiorentino and Elliott similarly belies any problems in the story, which is aided immensely by the latter’s solid-as-a-rock acting skill in a credible and entertaining perf.

Top-notch technicals, including Bill Johnson’s editing, shot selection by d.p. Michael Bonvillain, and colorful visuals from production designer Jonathan A. Carlson, combine to make pic appealing fare that helps it move quickly.

The Desperate Trail

Sun. (9), 8-10 p.m., TNT

Production

Filmed in Santa Fe, N.M., by Motion Picture Corp. of America in association with Turner Network Television. Producers, Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler; co-producer, Chad Oman; director, P.J. Pesce; writers, Pesce, Tom Abrams.

Crew

camera, Michael Bonvillain; editor, Bill Johnson; production designer, Jonathan A. Carlson; set design, Susan Degus; sound, Rick Waddiell; music, Stephen Endelman.

Cast

Cast: Sam Elliott, Craig Sheffer , Linda Fiorentino, John Furlong, Michael Huddleston, Bradley Whitford, Frank Whaley, Robin Westphal, Boots Southerland, Joey Hamlin, Danny O'Hara, Jill Scott Momaday, R.L. Tolbert, P.J. Pesce, Rockne Tarkington, Peter Gregory, George Cook , Elliot Tolbert, Andrea Camarena Lindsay, Jerry Gardner, Sam Gauny, Wally Welch , Tom Berto, Ramon Frank, Jeff O'Haco, Tom Abrams, Jon Maldonado, Malissa Feruzzi, Cecile Krevoy, Gretchen Becker.

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