Only a few days after the abysmal post-apocalyptic non-thriller Hunters, writer/director Justin Lee (Big Legend, Badlands) has another film hitting the market. This time it’s a Western, Apache Junction, which despite the name doesn’t have much to do with the Apaches. It’s a tale of outlaws and bad men against slightly less bad men in a town with no law except the law of the gun.
Reporter Annabelle Angel (Scout Taylor-Compton, Penance Lane, The Lurker) is a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. She’s come to do a story on the town of Apache Junction, a haven for outlaws of all kinds. Not entirely oblivious of the potential danger involved she’s hired notorious gunslinger Jericho Ford (Stuart Townsend, Queen of the Damned, Salem) as a guide and for protection.
That was a smart move because Capt. Hensley (Trace Adkins, Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story, The Outsider). Makes it clear he’s got better things to do than enforce the law or protect people. It’s much safer and more profitable for him and his men to turn a blind eye to the presence of all the men they’re supposed to be arresting.
Apache Junction certainly has the makings for an action-packed horse opera and it’s nice to see Scout Taylor-Compton in something besides a horror film, even if her character feels as anachronistic as her name does unlikely. The presence of Thomas Jane (The Mist, Run Hide Fight) as saloon owner Al Longfellow also had me hoping for some punishing action scenes.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to see that Lee is content to give us ninety minutes of blandly filmed cliches and half-hearted action scenes. How half-hearted? Any self-respecting Western has a big saloon brawl, be it with fists or guns. Even Death Rider in the House of Vampires had one. Apache Junction gives us a boxing match between Jericho and a much larger opponent. Which he wins with a punch to the groin after getting repeatedly beat down. I guess the budget didn’t run to a bar full of stuntmen.
How cliched? We find out in the same scene that he’s involved with Mary Primm (Danielle Gross, Final Kill, D.P.I. Discount Paranormal Investigators) a whore with a heart of gold. And one of the would-be rapists Jericho saves Ms. Angel from is Private Hensley (Nicholas Ryan, Shark Season, Asteroid-a-Geddon), son of Capt. Hensley. This prompts Hensley to hire several of Apache Junction’s other quick draw artists, including Oslo Pike (Ed Morrone, The Rally-LA), to get revenge.
Now as generic as all of this is, Apache Junction still could have been an enjoyable film if it had been well made. Just keep the bullets and punches flying, the performances at least somewhat believable, and you have an acceptable time waster. Formula Westerns were a staple of filmmaking for decades because it was so easy to make an entertaining one. But even that seems to be too high a bar for this film, which is odd considering it’s Lee’s fourth Western.
Granted I wasn’t expecting much from Trace Adkins, there’s a reason he’s known for his size and for singing “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” rather than his acting skills. I’m sure his fans will be happy to see him and his wife Victoria Pratt (Mongolian Death Worm, The Last Heist) who plays Longfellow’s right-hand woman, Christine. But when you can’t get a good performance out of Townsend, Jane or Scout Taylor-Compton you have issues.
The action scenes are similarly dull and lack any real spark. One, which is supposed to show us how dangerous Pike is. even feels unfinished, as though they forgot to dub in the sound of his gunshot. Or so much as a bloodstain on the man he shot. Even the final showdown between Pike and Ford, which, in the film’s one attempt at innovation, is staged as a duel rather than the usual gunfight falls flat.
But perhaps the worst mistake Apache Junction makes is the one most people won’t notice. The film is supposed to be about Annabelle. Instead, she’s pushed into the background and made a supporting character. the damsel in distress, as the film focuses on Ford. It becomes becomes the story of his redemption, not her bravery.
Apache Junction is available from Lionsgate and Saban Films. There is an official Facebook page for it but all it has is the film’s logo. As if they decided it wasn’t worth even the minimal effort of posting some pictures and press releases. Which is about the only thing anyone got right about this film.