Director Eugene Levy, an “SCTV” alumnus, sends up the Western genre with sufficiently fresh satire to create a warm and occasionally hilarious spoof whose roots and tone swing all the way back to “Cat Ballou” and “Blazing Saddles.”
The cast — which includes Fred Willard as a dim-headed, cuckolded farmer, Kris Kristofferson as a fingerless gunslinger and John Vernon as the greasy villain, is quite solid (especially the sweet, dumb Willard). What makes the send-up work so well is that everyone plays it as straight as the trajectory of a Colt .45 bullet.
In chomping through a cliche yarn featuring hard-working homesteaders and land-grubbing cattlemen in 1875 Marble Hat, Colo., co-writers Levy and John Hemphill (the latter doubles as a grinning gunman) comedically deflate the form’s hoary traditions.
Those tasty home-cooked meals by the endearing farmer’s wife look and taste like buffalo cakes. The bad guys linguistically wrangle over whether “a witch’s tit is supposed to be hot or cold.” And the struggling, decent sodbusters are easily tempted by the villain’s buyout offers — the hell with unity and brotherhood.
That is until Kristofferson, in a genuine exhortation straight out of “Shane” or “High Noon,” convinces the farmers to band together because it’s morally right.
But the moviemakers (including several “SCTV” alums in addition to Levy) derive their greatest success from sexual humor that has nothing to do with the genre. The lascivious, willowy farmer’s wife (the delicious Wendel Meldrum) relentlessly tries to coax Kristofferson’s mysterious stranger into the sack.
In the funniest scenes, the hulking village blacksmith (James Pickens Jr.) and a prosperous, sensitive rancher (Max Gail) turn out to be gay dudes who can’t take their eyes off each other.
As the black blacksmith tells the white rancher, “The line in your well-chosen shirt highlights the softer features in your face but still accentuates the strong jaw line … without makin’ a statement.”
As for the rancher, he invites the whole town to a hoedown: “Nothing fancy” he tells them. “Just a simple spread — light dairy, seasonal fruits.”
With writing like this, cable TV looks mighty different from the primetime webs.