Freshman writer & director Scott Martin trots out every cliché for his western shoot'em up "Big Kill," co-starring Jason Patric of "Sleepers" and Lou Diamond Phillips of "Young Guns" as the truculent hooligans who menace our heroes. If you enjoy westerns, you'll know which westerns inspired Martin when he scripted this indulgent but entertaining horse opera. Not only did Scott Martin write and direct this 127-minute sagebrusher, but he also edited the film and cast himself as one of the protagonists.Patience may constitute your biggest obstacle as you watch this laid-back, loquacious, frontier yarn.For the record, it takes our heroic trio almost 25 minutes before they enter the eponymous town of Big Kill.By that point, the significance of the town has been blown far out of proportion.The primary hero, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native Jim Andrews (Christoph Sanders of "Hounddog"), has arrived on the frontier and is bound for the gold-strike bonanza town of Big Kill to visit his older brother, Grant Andrews (K.C. Clyde of "War Pigs"), who owns the main saloon.Tragically, Jim embarked on his journey after his wife and baby died in childbirth. An accountant by trade, he knows little about firearms, and so he must acquaint himself with the ways of westerners.Jim is one of those virtuous few who would never dream of doing wrong.He falls in with the likes of two hard luck gamblers, Travis Parker (Clint Hummel of "The Quick and the Undead") and Jake Logan (Scott Martin of "Battle Force"), eager to join him.Their collective reputation precedes them wherever they ride.Actually, they behave like the bickering duo in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," and serve as comic relief in "Big Kill."
"Big Kill" gets off to a gallop, with Travis and Jake riding hellbent-for-leather out of Mexico after swapping lead with Mexican troops. Don Juan that he is, Travis has a warm and willing senorita in his arms when bullets begin to fly. As it turns out, the senorita is none other than the local Army Commander's daughter, and he is fuming. General Morales (Danny Trejo of "Machete") and a band of uniformed soldiers try to riddle Travis and Jack before they can skedaddle on horseback. Trejo evokes memories of noted Mexican character actor Emilio Fernández in Sam Peckinpah's bloodthirsty saga "The Wild Bunch." Lead whines thick and fast around them like angry hornets, but the standard-issue formula dictates these two hombres cannot die. Bigger and better things await them. They flee across the border, but the furious Morales follows them. Only the adamant reprimand of a grim U.S. Army officer, Colonel Granger (Michael Paré of "Streets of Fire"), and the threat of impending war prompts Morales to retire empty-handed to Mexico. Sadly, this is Trejo's only scene. The same applies to Paré. No matter where they ride, Travis and Jake are treated as persona no gratae. Frontiersmen without a score to settle with them are few and far-between. Matters aren't ameliorated either, since Jake loses at cards more often than he wins. Meantime, Travis has his bullfighter's eye for babes. No matter where he rides, this Romeo always ferrets out the most alluring ladies. Naturally, these two tangle-footed troublemakers want to clear out of Texas and head further west. They cross trails with Andrews, and he convinces them to accompany him to Arizona. Basically, you've got two charismatic fugitives and a tenderfoot in a mash-up of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" meets "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," but on a considerably lower budget.
Andrews gets the shock of his life when he rides into Big Kill. He learns to his chagrin that his brother sold the saloon and a flood ended the gold-strike. The town is all but deserted, except for his brother's former saloon and a store run by respectable types. James cannot find his brother, but little does he know his sibling is now the mayor. When they arrive in Big Kill, they encounter a pugnacious parson, Preacher (Jason Patric), decked out in black from head to toe, sporting a silver cross on his chest, who administers a raw form of justice. Aiding and abetting Preacher is his loyal henchman, Johnny Kane (Lou Diamond Phillips), who has little control over an itchy trigger-finger. Kane struts about impudently in a crimson coat and pants like Satan. Between these two felons, the town of Big Kill is a despotic state. Eventually, James meets his brother. Before it's over, Preacher undermines the elder Andrews and leaves him swinging by the neck, with his head in a noose. James abandons his tenderfoot's revulsion for gunplay and sets out to slap leather with the unpleasant pastor.
"Snakes on a Train" lenser Mark Atkins captures the austere, scenic grandeur of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the fracas unfolds. The production values are better than average, and everything appears to have been shot on location rather than within the claustrophobic confines of a studio. Martin has created several interesting characters with traits that flesh out their humanity. The one who emerges from the periphery is an audacious prostitute, Felicia Stiletto (Stephanie Beran of "P-51 Dragon Fighter"), who does double-duty as the Preacher's assassin. When we see her first, she is contending with a stranger who interrupted her during her bath. Ousting the intruder from her room, Felicia stabs him several times and sends him plunging to his death from the second floor saloon balcony. Predictably, she takes a shine to Travis, but he takes her in stride. Patric is good as a mysterious man of the cloth who expects everybody to attend his church services. He has no qualms about killing anybody who refuses his offer. Eventually, James Andrews succumbs to the western way of life, but only after he has seen his unfortunate brother garnishing a noose. Despite its abundance of clichés, "Big Kill" qualifies as an above-average oater, enhanced by a sturdy cast, with flavorful dialogue.