Except for Luke Perry, the cast of this Hallmark Western seems culled from the Ed Wood school of acting, resulting in a movie that’s almost bad enough to be good. If nothing else, seeing C. Thomas Howell as the snarling villain — complete with long sideburns and Snidely Whiplash outfit — is a hoot, especially since he’s metaphorically trying to tie a comely widow to the railroad tracks and steal her land. Westerns traditionally perform well among older audiences starved for the genre, but they had better be awfully hungry to choke down this chewy oater.
A revenge tale with (apologies to George Stevens) a touch of “Shane,” “A Gunfighter’s Pledge” features Perry as Sheriff Matt Austin, who seeks vengeance after an escaped fugitive (Kim Coates) and his buddy murder the lawman’s wife and child. Austin’s quest leads to the unfortunate death of an innocent rancher, who gaspingly extracts a pledge from the sheriff to help his widowed sister, Amaya (Jaclyn DeSantis), and her kid from being booted off the property.
The land-grabber pushing that plot is Lamar Horn (Howell), who rules the town with an iron fist. His bullying tactics inspire the sheriff’s sympathy for Amaya, and as luck would have it, the hombre that Austin is after winds up there, too, conveniently recruited as muscle on Horn’s behalf.
OK, so the “title holders trying to protect their land from a greedy tycoon/businessman/rancher ruthlessly bent on acquiring and solidifying control over the town/valley/frontier” is a reliable Western staple. But as directed by Armand Mastroianni (who just helmed Hallmark’s wounded-bird miniseries “Final Approach”) from Jim Byrnes’ script, the pic lacks any pizzazz in its action sequences, and suffers from such wooden line readings that it’s tempting to look for cue cards posted on the trees.
Hallmark will offer a themed Western month during July, and strictly as a fan of a lonely breed, here’s hoping the trail doesn’t end there. Still, before the cabler moseys much farther along that path, perhaps it should pledge to execute the next one with more care.