TNT and Once Upon a Time Films hooked up in Almeria and Madrid for production on "Dollar For the Dead," with the result being a moderately entertaining, albeit dated, effort at reviving a highly stylized version of filmmaking. The trite plot is the weakest link in this scenario that pits "loner gunslinger with an agenda" against the world.
In this age of embracing retro concepts, TNT, already well-known for its extensive library of westerns, sought to make a Sergio Leone-style spaghetti western sans the famed Italian director, who died in 1989. Working with Leone’s crew, TNT and Once Upon a Time Films hooked up in Almeria and Madrid for production on “Dollar For the Dead,” with the result being a moderately entertaining, albeit dated, effort at reviving a highly stylized version of filmmaking. The trite plot is the weakest link in this scenario that pits “loner gunslinger with an agenda” against the world.
Leone trademarks have been harvested: minimal dialogue, quirky humor, strategic close-ups, shifts in points-of-view, extended moments of silence and even an operatic accompaniment to slow-motion shootouts replete with gymnastic tumbles, incredible aim and the ability to shoot up to 37 people without reloading.
All this somehow makes sense in the context in which it is presented. At the same time, some concepts, especially those that became unique signatures of the originators, are better left to their creators, and any revival effort often appears deflated, and dated, in the translation.
Such is the danger of breathing life into the filmmaking techniques of Sergio Leone. They had a place, they had an appeal and they had a following; the operative word being “had.”
Emilio Estevez, though a reasonably good actor making the best of the role, is miscast as a gunslinger with an “evil eye.” Holding his age well, his baby blues are keenly reminiscent of his Brat Pack days, and are more inviting than intimidating, even after he’s wiped out half the cow town’s population with his expert shooting.
Which leads to another problem: In this day and age, how do we sympathize with this character who arbitrarily kills without blinking, regardless of his tortured past and slightly askew justification?
He is so much a loner that his name is never revealed. Yet, for a man who trusts no one, he easily takes up with Dooley (William Forsythe), a one-legged ex-Confederate soldier with a strangely endearing personality and a convoluted tale of a half-a-million dollars in missing Confederate gold.
As the story progresses and subplots abound, they’re chased by an army of gnarly tough guys whom they’ve ticked off along the way, only to have them all converge in a valley massacre where bullets fly like a swarm of bees, and our heroes remain remarkably unscathed for the duration.
Ex-L.A. Raider Howie Long portrays an impressive Reager, an imposing man whom nobody dares cross for obvious reasons that are cleanly summed up in a fight scene between him and a group of five Federales.
Jonathan Banks does a believable job as Skinner, an obsessive Union officer trying to retrieve the missing gold; though his dialogue is sparse, his expressions tend to say it all in Leone understated fashion.
For western enthusiasts who embrace the thought of the super hero cowboy, “Dollar” could make for an enjoyable evening in front of the tube, if you can suspend all current thoughts of political correctness. Be prepared, however, to substitute the Eastwood scowl with an Estevez puppy-dog wimper. Overall, pic has its moments.
Tech credits speak well of spaghetti westerns.