Wednesday, May 18, 2011

YOUNG GUNS II (1990) - the legend of Billy the Kid; his mullet-trocities and gunslinging juvenilia

Here's Bon Jovi's fake cowboy ballad that plays over the end credits, certainly one of the highlights of the film. Perhaps that's a bad omen.

“This is the west, sir. When the legend become fact, print the legend.”

This quote from John Ford’s
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has been said to reflect Ford’s own feelings on the western genre. It's a wise and succinct way of pointing out his own complicity in molding America's history. Notice how nowhere John Ford is quoted as saying “make sure the legend includes a mulleted Emilio Estevez”, and for good god damn reason. The Sheen/Estevez clan defines the modern era, whether through their party ready follicles or nonsensical coke brain verbal spew. This, alas, is out of step with the stories of the American west.

Hair historians have noted that Emilio’s mullet works perfectly within the framework of the underrated
National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, as it functions as a parody of Mel Gibson’s mullet from Lethal Weapon. While the layman might think these two mullets are interchangeable, the true follicle connoisseur recognizes that Emilio’s overblown goofball mullet sharply contrasts with Gibson’s overblown serious mullet, with the latter properly dramatizing the character of Martin Riggs. Call Gibson whatever you may, whether a racist, a sexist, or "Captain Christbeater", he works a mullet like nobody's business.

Young Guns II is another one of the approximately 80 gazillion Billy the Kid movies. He was a legend of his time, so these films end up being a series of endless variations on a legend. Here the legend is given a bit of a modern (circa 1990) tweak, in the sense that Billy the Kid is presented as a product of celebrity. He murders not out of psychopathic rage, but because his outlaw ways are celebrated and rewarded in a sense. His catch phrase "I'll make you famous" shows us how he values celebrity over human life, and also conveniently doubles as a catch phrase (natch), which is needed to sell the movie to sitcom leveled America. However, he comes across as a seven year old boy that was never told that murder is wrong, and instead is constantly told how awesome he is. If you imagine that this dynamic would produce a character who's loathsome and extremely annoying, you would be right. The movie wants us to sympathise with this version of Billy the Kid as an ultra cool rebel type, yet get angry about how the media can create human monsters that commit evil to gain notoriety. In other words, they want us to love the player and hate the game. I hated both.

Obviously a sequel to
Young Guns (which I haven't seen, and this might invalidate the entire review), it also symbolically functions as a prequel of sorts to the Mighty Ducks franchise, a transitional piece between Emilio’s days as an 80’s rebel of sorts (Repo Man, Wisdom, etc.) to everyone’s favorite mulleted schlub of the 90’s. Unfortunately, as hinted at earlier, this cuts into the film’s effectiveness as a period piece. I guess the short lived Young Guns franchise was an attempt to revive interest in the western genre by appealing to youths at the time, but the casting of Emilio and Christian Slater proves disastrous in this regard, as they simply resort to their typical schtick. You might be able to argue something similar for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a "postmodern" variation on the western genre that intentionally features two wise cracking Hollywood stars in legendary outlaw roles. However, Young Guns II seems to be attempting to be more realistic and conventional, where as Butch Cassidy is tonally breezy and attempts to comment on the western genre. Newman and Redford come across as bemused and charismatic visitors to the cinematic western, where as Slater and Estevez are annoying party crashers lost in a sea of genre confusion.

Curiously, the movie begins and ends with a wraparound where an elderly man named "Brushy" Bill Roberts is claiming to be Billy the Kid, that he was never actually killed by Pat Garrett (played here by William Petersen in the only truly interesting and nondistracting performance). If you watched
Unsolved Mysteries as much as I did, you’d know that this was based on a real case. However, it seems to have since been dismissed by most historians. On paper, this sounds like it could work as a another layer showing how legends are reshaped when new information comes to light. Instead, it plays as a Titanic-esque framing device (which extends throughout the film with intrusive and terrible voice over) where Emilio, in maybe the worst old age performance in movie history, reminisces about the good old days where people thought he was awesome for shooting people. Hey old timer...hurry up and die. Thank you.

Despite my ranting, I can't completely discount any movie that features Jenny Wright as a spunky whorehouse madam. Her performance is foot stompingly loud, possibly a fiery extension of her glorious red hair. How fiery?

That fiery, people. Perhaps she's also an incongruous fit within the wild west, but she makes up for it by getting on a horse naked and riding off, for no discernible reason (I mean the naked part). Not that I really require a reason, of course.

So, in closing, if you're a fake cowboy, embrace it. Don't try to pass yourself off as a real one. One person that truly understands this is Jon Bon Jovi, who sings of "steel horses" and cowboy metaphors while never claiming he actually did any of this shit, unlike your Toby Keith asshole types who sing about gunslinging and wrestling bulls. Bringing it back to the hair discussion, check out the video for "Wanted Dead or Alive" and notice the teased Jersey chick hair on prominent display. Of course I'm talking about the band members, who understand that rocking bad 80's hair needs to be done within the appropriate era...or never. Either one.

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