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THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Simon Moore; produced by Joshua Donen, Allen Shapiro and Patrick Markey for TriStar Pictures. Starring Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. Rated R.


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It's hard to say if the people responsible for this '90's version of the spaghetti western meant for it to be as funny as it is. If they didn't, they should be glad that it turned out that way. Without its humor, The Quick and the Dead would have little going for it.

As it is, though, it's a lot of fun to watch. Particularly, I expect, for fans of those Clint Eastwood epics of many years ago. Here we have all the elements that made those movies so entertaining—over-acting villains and under-acting heroes; bizarre, almost other-worldly settings; and lots of well-choreographed violence.

Everything but Eastwood himself, you may say? Not to worry. Stone is a fine stand-in for the Man with No Name. Same acting range (minimal), same "don't tread on me" attitude, same ultra-cool look and body language.

And the story is just as goofily simplistic, maybe even more so. It involves a town completely in the grip of a greedy, psychopathic and extremely skillful gunfighter (Hackman), who holds periodic quick draw contests to eliminate his enemies. Stone's character joins in the fun, but with a more serious purpose: revenge upon Hackman, who was responsible for her father's death years before.

The contest, with its single elimination structure, gives the story the only narrative drive it has. But, as you might expect, seeing these gunfights over and over again begins to get monotonous long before the top two seeds meet in the finals. It is so ridiculous a concept, though, that the humor factor may keep you watching.

Somewhat surprisingly for a Sharon Stone movie, there are no sex scenes in The Quick and the Dead. Its R rating was earned strictly through violence, although most of that is so cartoonish, it's hardly offensive.

A wildly diverse supporting cast of grotesques and buffoons gives The Quick and the Dead a lot of local color. And the other major characters make the most (and usually more) of their material. Hackman, as the unrealistically evil villain, chews the scenery like the old pro he is. Australian Crowe is impressive as a super-gunfighter turned priest (I am not making this up). And DiCaprio seems to enjoy playing a character that's (ironically) closer to being a normal kid than any of his previous movie roles.

We may be watching a classic western being born here, but if so, it's in the class with Blazing Saddles rather than Shane or High Noon, or even For A Few Dollars More.

February 22, 1995

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