Wyatt Earp’s Revenge, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 93 minutes, 2012, $26.99
The true tale of Dora Hand (dancer, prostitute, philanthropist) and her accidental 1878 killing in Dodge City, Kansas, at the gun hand of spoiled rich “bad boy” Spike Kenedy seems like a story made for the screen, big or small. Add to the same movie the equally compelling true tale of the subsequent pursuit of Kenedy by a quartet of Wild West history all-stars—Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Charlie Bassett and Bill Tilghman—and it has the makings of another Tombstone (1993). Unfortunately for Western lovers, this egregiously clichéd, one-note direct-to-DVD movie directed by Michael Feifer doesn’t come close to doing the actual story justice.
Feifer rushes through the film’s central yarn. Victim Dora is given very little background besides the fact (actually fiction) that she’s a lover of Wyatt. Spike was meaning to murder Mayor James H. “Dog” Kelley, with whom he’d quarreled, and when Spike sprays lead at Kelley’s room, it’s Dora who gets it (Kelley was away and Dora was there). This begs the question, If Dora is a love interest of Wyatt’s, why is she sleeping in this other guy’s bed? Wyatt doesn’t blink at this, though, and he and his very loyal crew give chase, despite threats from Judge Hinkle. Before the final confrontation, Bat says to Wyatt, “If you’re determined to ride into the gates of Hades itself, I’m gonna be by your side.” It’s a mystery where this kind of loyalty comes from. In real life it is more likely that Masterson, as Ford County sheriff, led the pursuit, which extended far beyond the city limits of Dodge. Historical inaccuracies abound here, such as Sam Kenedy assisting brother Spike in Dora’s murder (Spike actually acted alone), and Spike behaving like a psychotic serial killer (he wasn’t that bad or that disturbed). What will really stick in the craw of Earp aficionados, though, is the premise that old Wyatt never could forget his “true love” Dora. (Wonder how Josephine Earp, Wyatt’s common-in-law wife for nearly five decades, would have taken that?)
Not that historical accuracy is necessary to a good film, but the straying from truth here often seems to serve no real purpose. The only solid performances are that of Val Kilmer’s old (1907) Wyatt and Wilson Bethel’s young Doc Holliday, seen here as a borderline-maniacal dentist who gets as many kicks out of extracting a bullet as he does a tooth. Doc’s presence in Wyatt Earp’s Revenge is pure Hollywood, but that can be forgiven, because Bethel’s Doc makes humorous references to Kilmer’s grand performance as the dentist-turned-gunfighter in Tombstone.
Shawn Roberts plays the young (1878) Wyatt with almost a single expression. It’s a straight-edged, no nonsense look that lingers somewhere between anger and determination. Perhaps someone told him not to change his expression until he got his revenge. Bat Masterson (Matt Dallas) is more easygoing but no more memorable. Spike (Daniel Booko) is less dull, particularly when he menaces an innocent prairie family after taking advantage of their hospitality. Sooner or later, though, Spike, too, becomes entirely predictable.
The script has its share of cringe-worthy lines, the music is bland and misused, and the pacing can be a strain. On a positive note, the end of the film—if you make it that far—provides a welcome and surprising twist. Despite the gunplay, Wyatt Earp’s Revenge doesn’t look like a Western. In the Holliday tooth-pulling scene, for example, we get a glimpse at how crude the world of dentistry was back in the Old West, yet everyone in the scene has beautiful, glowing white teeth. Yes, there was a small budget and little time for shooting the picture, so allowances must be made. Still, one would be hard-pressed to call Wyatt Earp’s Revenge an entertaining B Western. Certainly it fails to bring the Dora Hand story to the screen in the fashion it deserves. Perhaps the story will get its revenge though, when director Walter Hill (The Long Riders, Geronimo) adapts Thunder Over the Prairie (a 2009 nonfiction book about the same murder and manhunt) to the big screen.