Tom Selleck has been saying in interviews for the Aussie Western "Quigley Down Under" that he felt a bit ill at ease since the title character seems more perfectly suited to an old-time, bigger-than-life veteran Western star like John Wayne.
His modesty is refreshing but unnecessary. I'm hard-pressed to recall the last time an actor seemed more perfectly suited to a movie role than Selleck is to Matthew Quigley.Of course, it's also hard to remember the last time a Western came to town, aside from "Back to the Future, Part III," which was more of a comic anti-Western.
This isn't Selleck's first time in the saddle, of course. Fans who remember his salad days may recall the Louis L'Amour TV movies "The Sacketts" and "The Shadow Riders."
But "Quigley" is Selleck's first big-screen Western - and let's hope it's not his last.
Selleck plays a Wyoming cowpoke who seriously adheres to the code of the Old West. He sails to Australia, answering an ad by wealthy landowner Alan Rickman, who wants a sharpshooter - specifically a sharpshooter who can hit faraway targets.
The moment he lands, Selleck, trying to defend the honor of half-crazy expatriate Texican Laura San Giacomo, finds himself in a fight with three hired guns. San Giacomo is a wildcat among a group of prostitutes whose services, it turns out, have been by Selleck's new boss.
So they make peace and head out for Rickman's ranch, a three-day trek across the scorching desert outback. Eventually, Selleck gets to back up his sharpshooting claims, picking off a bucket that is so far away the audience can barely see it. (Imagine this on video.)
Once he's made a favorable impression, however, Selleck finds out why Rickman has hired him - he's looking for a hit man to help him knock off the local aborigines.
Selleck, of course, is appalled and it isn't long before he and San Giacomo are left for dead in the middle of the desert. But, as if it would surprise you, they manage to survive, and Selleck soon becomes a real thorn in Rickman's side.
Aside from the Australian twist, "Quigley Down Under" is little more than a basic Western formula picture, with a towering deadeye cowboy going up against a ruthless landowner, ending with a one-on-one shootout in the corral and riding - or, in this case, sailing - off into the sunset with the girl. There just happen to be kangaroos hopping around in the background.
As you might expect, the film's violence is escalated beyond what would have been allowed in movies during the Western's heyday, in this case with a lot of women and children being gunned down by Rickman's evil henchmen. (This is not a movie for wee ones.)
Rickman may be remembered as the delicious villain of the first "Die Hard," and he does another dandy job of giving us someone to hate, especially since this character is a sort of outback Hitler, attempting to exterminate the aborigines. But the film could have benefited from a few other memorable villains in his employ. As it is, they are all one-note.
Selleck and San Giacomo (the sister in "sex, lies and videotape" and Julia Roberts' best friend in "Pretty Woman") are terrific, however, and there's a crackling chemistry between them, though it's hardly used.
Selleck is easygoing, charming and fun, but the feisty San Giacomo gets the lion's share of the laughs. Her character is also somewhat poignant, with a tragic past, though her mental illness, which comes and goes, is treated perhaps a bit too lightly. But hey, this is a Western adventure, not a psychological character study.
The score, by Basil Polidouris, perfectly compliments the action, and director Simon Wincer, best known for the superb TV miniseries "Lonesome Dove," knows how to use the Australian landscape to great advantage, though he doesn't seem very adventurous here.
John Hill's script clings a bit too much to old-fashioned Western movie cliches and more could have been made of the Aussie setting. But it's an enjoyable entertainment, and aspires to no more.
Besides, it's come along at just the right moment. Surrounded by gangster melodramas, an old-fashioned Western looks even better.
"Quigley Down Under" is rated PG-13 for violence, a few profanities and some partial nudity among the native aborigines.