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TOMBSTONE. Directed by George P. Costmatos; written by Kevin Jarre; produced by James Jacks, Sean Daniel and Bob Misiorowski for Hollywood Pictures. Starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn and Dana Delaney.


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If Tombstone's storytelling were on a par with its acting, it would be a humdinger of a western.

Except for the women's parts, which are completely one-dimensional, the characters and performances are terrific. Russell is a perfect Wyatt Earp. Boothe and Biehn are totally creepy villains. And all the smaller parts are great as well, from Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton as the other Earps to Terry O'Quinn as Tombstone's mayor and Charleton Heston as a crusty rancher.

The most remarkable performance is Kilmer's Doc Holliday. This character is usually the most interesting in the story, with his combination of machismo and sickliness. And Kilmer steals the show with him. You might not even recognize Willow's Madmartigan or Top Gun's Ice Man here. You definitely won't recognize the voice.

With his performance in The Doors, Kilmer showed he isn't afraid to take acting chances. Tombstone further demonstrates his versatility and his guts.

Unfortunately, there is too much violence in this movie—much more than the story really requires—and the story in general is just too muddy.

One thing the classic westerns always have going for them is that a big scene is a big scene—you know when it's coming, and when it's over. And the biggest scene is at the end. But in this case, however, a large dose of old-fashioned, straightforward narrative drive would have improved the movie tremendously.

There are some really terrific individual scenes in Tombstone. One is when Holliday and Johnny Ringo (Biehn) insult each other in Latin at the faro table, another is when Wyatt finally has his showdown with Curly Bill (Boothe). But they're just not connected in any intelligent way.

These scenes are almost good enough for me to recommend the movie in spite of its other faults. But not quite.

January 12, 1994

Later this same year, another Wyatt Earp movie came out, this one with Kevin Costner as the marshall. You can read my review of it here.

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