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WYATT EARP. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Dan Gordon and Lawrence Kasdan; produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner, and Lawrence Kasdan for Warner Bros. Starring Kevin Costner, and Dennis Quaid. Rated PG-13 (violence, a few sexual references).


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Despite being a beautiful, thoughtful, and generally well-made movie, Wyatt Earp has two strikes against it.

The impact of the first one is easy to gauge—it's about 30-45 minutes too long. We definitely get to know the character of Wyatt Earp better than ever before, largely because of the interesting scenes from his early life. But the problem is, particularly later on, we may wish we hadn't learned so much.

The Wyatt of the second half or so of the movie isn't a terribly appealing character. He's cold and unfeeling, with an increasingly "Earps-against-the world" mentality that starts to drag on the story and eventually just makes us wish it could be over.

Now, a year ago, no one would believe that Costner could convincingly play an unpleasant character. But in last fall's A Perfect World, he did just that, and pretty well, too. So acting isn't the problem here (although Costner may perhaps overdo the "strong, silent" bit here somewhat).

In fact, Quaid, as Doc Holliday, turns in a quite virtuoso performance.

I think it's just a matter of pacing, of lingering too long on scenes and sequences that the moviemakers must have found uncuttable, but that the audience won't be so taken with.

The second strike against Wyatt Earp is the proximity of the other Earp movie, Tombstone. What's interesting is that Wyatt Earp is the better movie, in almost all respects. But Tombstone wasn't too bad, and it was very well-acted. (Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday, for example, is just as audacious and mesmerizing as Quaid's.) And it was also unforgettable enough to be a major distraction while you're watching Wyatt Earp.

This distracting goes on for almost the whole story and even extends down to the minor characters. Having seen the same plot played out so recently detracts from the impact of the much more ambitious current movie.

So count yourself lucky if you didn't see Tombstone. You will probably enjoy Wyatt Earp more than I did. Although I think you will still lose patience with it before the final credits.

July 27, 1994

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