Lewis & Clark & George

Astylish and jokey modern Western noir, "Lewis & Clark & George" is nonetheless just a bit too little and too late in the hipster crime cycle. Tale of a trio of lusty, greedy, double-crossing outlaws hotfooting it across the Southwest in search of an elusive gold mine has a measure of panache, but not enough originality or slashing humor to allow it to break out of the American indie pack. Writer-director Rod McCall, whose first feature, "Paper Hearts," debuted at Sundance in 1993 and was subsequently released as "Cheatin' Hearts," throws together two escaped cons who couldn't have less in common. Lewis (Salvator Xuereb) is a rangy, impulsive, dimwitted murderer, while Clark (Dan Gunther) is a short, brainy, physically timid man who was doing time for computer crime. As in many an old Western, they come into possession of a map to a gold mine, and are bound together by the fact that illiterate Lewis, who would otherwise blow his partner away, needs Clark to read the map.

With:
George ..... Rose McGowan Lewis ..... Salvator Xuereb Clark ..... Dan Gunther

Into the mix comes the inevitable noir femme fatale, George (Rose McGowan), a sultry dame of outrageously sexy proportions who doesn’t speak but smokes a mean cigar. George — who is good at stealing cars, totes around a rare poisonous snake and is on her way cross-country to see her mother — lights Clark’s fire right away, but Lewis resents and suspects her, creating a fissure in the now three-member gang.

Just for the hell of it, Lewis commits a number of senseless acts of violence along the way, as the group tries to stay one step ahead of the cops as well as the thug from whom George stole the prize snake. George, who can usefully keep her own counsel by not speaking, effectively manipulates the men to her own gain, and the final Mexican standoff is played out with some wit, if not startling surprise.

McCall, who shot the film near his home in rural New Mexico, clearly knows the territory well and, with lenser Michael Mayers, gives the picture a lively, colorfully dusty look. Adding to the exaggerated comic tone is the almost cartoon-like nature of the humor and characterizations; McCall is clearly interested in using genre conventions to his own, quirky ends, and has fun applying broad strokes to the familiar themes of greed, lust and treachery.

Unfortunately, this is a road with plenty of tire ruts in it, and the familiar nature of the material and limited nature of the film’s stylistic exercise top off viewer interest and excitement relatively early. Neo-noir and outrageous violence have been so overworked in recent years, and the Western variation of same so ideally captured by John Dahl in “Red Rock West,” that it would take something exceptional, and not just good, to rouse audiences to it again at this point.

Fast-rising indie icon McGowan delivers the sexpot goods in spades, while her “Doom Generation” co-star Xuereb, as the lunatic Lewis, and producer Gunther, as the bookish Clark, rep plausible extremes of human nature. Production values are modest but adequate.

Lewis & Clark & George

Production: A Davis Entertainment Classics and Dark Matter Prods. presentation of a J. Todd Harris production. Produced by Dan Gunther, Harris. Executive producer, John Davis. Co-producer, Ed Cathell III. Directed, written by Rod McCall

Crew: Camera (CFI color), Michael Mayers; editor, Ed Marx; music, Ben Vaughn; music supervisor, Bob Knickman; production design, John Huke; costume design, Kari Perkins; sound (Dolby), Ben Patrick; associate producer, Tom Traub; assistant director, Ed Cathell III; casting, Cathy Henderson-Martin, Dori Zuckerman. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 21, 1997. (Also in Cannes Film Festival --- market.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With: George ..... Rose McGowan Lewis ..... Salvator Xuereb Clark ..... Dan GuntherArt LaFleur, Aki Aleong, James Brolin, Paul Bartel

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