The crime-thriller The Good, the Bad, and the Dead, directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. (Traded, American Violence), stars Johnny Messner in the lead role and features supporting turns from household names Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo and Vivica A. Fox.
The film opens to a scene of bedlam in the desert, with bodies, bullets, blood and bags of cocaine strewn macabrely across the scorched earth. A bloodied and beaten Brian Barns (Messner) awakens groggily to the massacre, sees the arrival of a police car, and closes his eyes tactically. I was reminded of No Country for Old Men immediately, with the imagery of a sprawling desert and the violent aftermath of a fouled-up drug deal. Sadly, such an ambitious comparison was fleeting.
From this point, the film splinters into occasionally chaotic, always confusing, and rarely intriguing or interesting shards as we learn that Barns has no idea who he is, that the local Sheriff (Michael Pare) has an arbitrary relationship with internal darkness along with a completely random moral compass, that “The Feds” are hot on the trail of this misfortune – led by Dolph Lundgren’s best attempt at being icily clinical in the form of DEA agent Bob Rooker – and that the local drug kingpin Mateo Perez (Trejo) is somehow involved.
One thing I will say here is this: even if you are sending up and paying homage to the tropes, clichés and stylisations of eras and genres of yesteryear (think corny and one-dimensional, but ultimately successful 80’s-era crime thrillers like Above the Law and Cobra), it still has to be done delicately. If not, and as in this case, it simply comes off as a regurgitation of the generally mediocre and uninspired “storytelling” that it attempts to undercut or nod to, without the “of the time” charm and nostalgia – crucial ingredients. In recent history, we saw The Cabin in the Woods play with the generic “horrifying cabin, eerie woods and college kids getting owned” form in a playful, insightful and intriguing way, toeing the line between fresh and familiar with real panache and finesse. Sadly, The Good, the Bad, and the Dead lacks those subtleties and skills almost entirely, resulting in an occasionally painful narrative and almost always boring subplots.
As the film veers aimlessly from one scene to another, training its crosshairs upon a desired tone of “bad town, bad people, good times” but never hitting the bullseye, the plotlines get thinner and require greater leaps in imagination. Further decaying its overall attempt at mood, the fight sequences are truly awful; a “less is more” approach may have been a better dosage for the viewer, as the action was jarring and took you out of each moment further still.
The ending seemed rushed, incomplete and largely without adequate framework, and that – for me – was the final nail in this coffin. It also resulted in the run time of 80 minutes feeling a lot longer, certainly not a good thing for a movie such as this. The experience left me a little saddened, as I grew up on a diet of the very 80’s action thrillers that this film clearly aimed to recreate, and Lundgren was once a truly chilling villain and one of my personal favourites.
Despite willingness for such nostalgia, I was unable to escape into the world this film so unevenly tried to create. I take no joy from sharing that The Good, the Bad, and the Dead was simply “bad town, bad people, bad film”.
THE REEL SCORE: 3/10