Direct-to-Video (DTV) releases are more common now than ever before, and though some of the films in this category help to erase the negative stigma that may come with a DTV release, there are still movies like The Gunslinger that remind us that watching DTV movies is a crapshoot.
There is not one once of originality in the 90 minutes of The Gunslingers. Instead it relies on using every old western film cliché over and over again, with zero success. According to the back of the DVD case, The Gunslingers is the story of Butch (John Elliott) – a bounty hunter – and how he gets caught up in a hunt for gold. More accurately, however, The Gunslingers follows the story of two Mexican brothers – Charley (Jason Leyva) and Puco (Abel Becerra) who work for a local sheriff. Butch tries turning in a fugitive, Rattler Fenton (Brad Allen), for a bounty. The sheriff offers $100, but Butch wants $200. The sheriff’s men and Butch come to blows and Butch ends up in prison. This is when Charley and Puco are introduced. Rattler bribes the men with promises of gold, which turns them against the sheriff and enters them into the rat race to find the gold that Rattler Fenton promised them. In the meantime, for seemingly no reason other than to have a pretty Asian woman in the movie, Akemi (Narisa Suzuki) follows the group along to try to avenge the death of her sister, which she blames on the villain of the movie, Mondego (Ben Hall).
Director Adam Oxsen has only one other directing credit on IMDB, (a short film) and it shows in The Gunslingers. There are a lot of directorial problems with the movie, like simple continuity problems and justification mishaps. There is a part where Butch and Rattler are locked in the prison, and there is light shining directly on Rattlers face, but the character says that there is a lack of light so he cannot figure out what time it is. This not only takes the audience out of the reality of the situation, but also makes the actor look foolish, and is something that should have been picked up immediately by a director.
If that was the only problem with The Gunslingers, I would be nitpicking. Unfortunately that isn’t the case; this is just one example of the many problems with this movie. The script is worse than most Syfy Channel movies, and the acting was no better. The main character put on an obviously false voice that made him sound like the long-time professional wrestler, The Undertaker. The one-liners that were stuffed into the movie were painful to sit through, and though the writer may have been trying to pay homage to some classic westerns of yesteryear, these merely came off as terrible writing. Calling the characters one-dimensional is pushing it; these characters are boring, cliché, and are never fleshed out. Their motivations are missing, and the audience will find it difficult to care about any one of them. This is the kiss of death in any movie.
The action sequences were poorly choreographed and looked phony the entire way through the film; it’s not just the hand-to-hand/whip fighting but also the gunshots. The special effects on a whole were incredibly cheap looking and had no effect on me. Especially bad was the use of green screen. There is one scene that is filled entirely with green screen, and the second it starts the audience knows it is CGI. The shadowing is dreadful which makes it look unrealistic, and takes the viewer out of the moment instantly.
It is as if a group of friends got together and decided to make a western film using the money they earned over the summer mowing lawns. There was obviously a minuscule budget, but good movies have been made on small budgets. Instead of trying to use green screen effects and cheesy exploding barrels, the writer and director should have tried to keep things simple and tell a better, character-driven story. That may have produced a movie that wasn’t cringe-worthy. The plot is uninteresting, the acting is well below average, the effects are useless, and the directing is amateurish, making The Gunslingers a DTV film worth avoiding.
In short, The Gunslingers makes The Brazen Bull look Oscar-worthy.
The Gunslingers is presented in a 16×9 widescreen presentation with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It must have been filmed with low-quality cameras because there is a bit of grain to the film, and it never looks stellar. The special effects look terrible, and this hurts the presentation of the DVD picture, especially when the green screen is being used.
The audio of the film is the best aspect of the DVD. An English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio is the only option, but it sounds fine. There are optional English and Spanish subtitle options. There are a few explosions, which are not “wow” worthy, but most of the audio track is dialogue and music, which are never lost through the film.
Storyboard to Screen Comparison (6:40): Goes through one of the scenes in the movie with the hand-drawn storyboard on the right-hand side, and the final product on the left. Only those who are interested in the storyboard process will find anything interesting here. Even those folks will be disappointed because there is no commentary included, merely the pictures themselves.
Alternate Opening (2:23): The Gunslingers used to be titled Ecstasy of Gold, and that is what this opening has in it. It is a small scene that is more interesting than the final DVD opening, and adds some character development for Butch.
Behind the Green Screen: Shooting the Cave Sequence (11:37): Another side-by-side feature. This time, instead of a storyboard on the right side of the screen, there is the original filming of the cave scene, before the green screen effects are put in. There is no commentary track talking about the process, no interviews with the director, producers, or the actors, or anything else informative. This is a disappointing special feature.
The Gunslingers Trailer (1:05)
The Gunslingers is not worth anyone’s time. If the movie took itself less seriously, it might have benefitted from being a comedic western. Instead, it falls on its face with poor directing, special effects, script and acting. The special features are not worth the effort, and leave this as a DVD that is not recommended.
The Ava Farm presents The Gunslingers. Directed by: Adam Oxsen. Starring: John Elliott, Narisa Suzuki, Abel Becerra, Jason Leyva. Written by: Adam Oxsen, Levi Lee, and Jordan Boyd. Running time: 89 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: November 16, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.