There are really great westerns and there are really awful westerns. And in the very middle between the two, there are pretty good westerns. These are the ones that tide you over while you're waiting for the next really great one to come along.
STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY (2016) is one of those pretty good ones, and, having watched it, I feel sufficiently tided over for awhile.
Country crooner Trace Adkins (TRADED), who has that long-haired, gravelly-voiced "outlaw country" thing down pat, plays former stagecoach bandit Nathaniel Reed. Nate's been trying to make a go at the straight and narrow life with his schoolmarm wife, Laura Lee (Michelle Harrison, "The Flash"), although times are hard for the small-time rancher.
They get a lot harder when renegade lawman Woody Calhoun (Kim Coates), sporting an eye patch thanks to one of Nate's bullets years before, catches up with him along with his female deputy, a sadistic, trigger-happy blonde named Bonnie Mudd (Helena Marie, "Supernatural"). One of Nate's old cohorts, Frank (Claude Duhamel), shows up first to warn him and before we know it, the air around Nate's ranch is filled with bullets.
When it's over, Nate's beloved Laura Lee has apparently been killed and, in desperation, he returns to what he knows best--robbing stagecoachs with Frank and another old saddle pal, the likable Sid (Judd Nelson, THE BREAKFAST CLUB). But the vengeful Calhoun and Mudd are now more determined than ever to get them and will leave no dastardly deed undone until Nate and his gang are dead.
While there are some nice plot twists along the way, this is a pretty straightforward story that's well told and gives us a decent amount of the no-frills western shoot 'em up action that we're looking for.
Editing is a bit clunky at times, but the direction by Terry Miles (DAWN RIDER, LONESOME DOVE CHURCH) is capable enough, with photography that's consistently eye-pleasing. It does seem rather odd seeing stagecoaches rumbling through dense green forests instead of deserts (the film was shot in Canada), but there's a richly authentic feel to the settings and costumes.
As Nate (aka "Texas Jack"), Adkins is no Olivier, yet he's a decent enough actor with the right presence for this sort of role. He works well alongside Judd Nelson, who's fun to watch as good-natured stagecoach robber Sid (let's face it, Judd Nelson has always been fun to watch, even in clunkers like STEEL).
Kim Coates, whom I will always think of as "Chet" in THE LAST BOY SCOUT, just does what he does best--playing a sneering bad guy who revels in being bad--and gives the film some of its best moments, particularly during an extended, tension-filled saloon scene between him and Duhamel that is quite simply one of my favorite scenes from a western in years.
Coates also has a terrific co-star in Helena Marie as Calhoun's deputy, Bonnie Mudd, one of the best female gunslinger characters I've ever seen. She plays the role to perfection, a character who's equal parts realism and fantasy, yet entirely convincing. Other cast standouts are Duhamel as the duplicitous Frank, and Michelle Harrison as Nate's devoted wife Laura Lee.
Dialogue is a bit on the corny side at times, with the occasional gem such as when Judd Nelson's character boasts, "It's gonna take a lot more than dyin' to kill Sid Dalton." An offhand reference to UNFORGIVEN's "we've all got it comin', kid" speech is also nicely done. Most of the really juicy lines are delivered by Coates and Marie, who, truth be told, are the main reasons for watching this movie.
While hardly a new classic, STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY serves up a decent helping of good old meat-and-potatoes western fun that should please fans of the genre until the next blockbuster horse opera comes galloping into town.
Pre-order it at Amazon.com (release date: December 13th):
Opens Theatrically on November 4 in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Orlando, Tampa-St.Petersburg and Kansas City, and Day-and-Date On Demand & Digital HD
Read our original coverage HERE