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Review published
August 22, 2003
A.J.'s Rating:  2.5 Spurs - The Mild, Mild West
Open Range
Directed By:  Kevin Costner
Written By:  Lauran Paine (novel) / Craig Storper (screenplay)

Starring:  Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon,
Michael Jeter, Diego Luna, James Russo, Abraham Benrubi, Dean McDermott

MPAA:  Rated R for violence.
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    Kevin Costner is back in the saddle, and back in the director's chair with the western drama, Open Range.  Costner plays Charley Waite, a cowboy who's tough on the outside, but real tender-like on the inside.  Not much of an acting departure for the old wolfdancer, is it?  Similarly cast is Robert Duvall, who plays his boss, Boss.  Together, along with a couple of hired hands, they're driving their herd across the open country, allowing their cattle to graze wherever rich, grass-covered hillsides or pastures can be found.  This custom, known as 'free-ranging', was well-established and quite legal in the American old west.  Unfortunately, this here story takes place in 1882, near the end of that 'old west' era, and, to put it mildly, most land owners of the time didn't take too kindly to the practice.
  
    As luck and Hollywood screenplays would have it, Waite and Boss run right smack-dab into one of those greedy land owners when they pass through Harmonville.  Yep, they're strangers in town, and the corrupt Sheriff wants 'em to skedaddle by sunset, or else!  True to character, the local cattle-baron has other, more dastardly ideas in mind.  You see, he's the feller who really controls both the town and the Sheriff.  Of course, for reasons best left unexplained here, Waite and Boss can't leave town just yet.  Hoo boy... somethin' tells me there's gonna be a showdown!  
   
    As westerns go, this story is just fine and dandy, except for the fact that it's all so gosh-darned obvious!  As with Costner's earlier works, the running themes in Open Range concern the value of true freedom and the strength of the human spirit.  However, the western plotline is so overwhelmingly stock-Hollywood that deeper meanings are all but lost in the ten-gallon shuffle of movie stars playing cowboy. 
   
    The supporting characters are likewise near as deep as wagon ruts on a dusty trail.  First, we have the two hired hands.  One is a big, likeable galoot named Mose.  He never meant no harm to no one, lessin' you done gone & riled him, that is.  The other is Button, 'the kid', a teenaged orphan the group picked up during their journey.  He wants to be a big strong cowboy, just like Waite.  Next, we have the townsfolk.  There's that old geezer that all westerns need, primarily for comic relief.  His name's Percy, and along with being just plain amusin', he also shows up whenever the plot needs a good kick forward.  As a result, his usefulness to Waite and Boss tends to border on the miraculous!  Meanwhile, wearin' the black hats are the cattle-baron's blood thirsty, yet typically yella' bellied crew, who weren't nothin' but trouble for Boss and his men.  Finally, what western would be complete without the virtuous damsel, in this case Sue Barlow, played by Annette Bening?  She's the type who would usually find herself tied to the railroad tracks mid-way through the picture.  Luckily for her, the train don't come through Harmonville.  Add in a whole mess of extras who could have come straight out of Blazing Saddles, and you've got yerself one rootin' tootin' frontier town, as well as one plum predictable wild west movie.
   
    Okay, I may be a pokin' and a prodin' this picture a bit much, but hey, I reckon I still owe Costner a few zingers for The Postman and Waterworld!  Truth be told, this movie is much better than either of those films were.  If you're a fan of wild westerns, or better still, haven't seen many of them, Open Range offers a very entertaining 90 minutes of pistol packin' fun.  Those remaining 45 minutes, though, are whole 'nutha matter...