Road to Revenge, the screener I saw still had the original title Royal’s Revenge on it, is the latest Western to come my way. I’ve reviewed several Westerns lately and they’ve ranged from watchable, Catch the Bullet, to horrible, Righteous Blood. But with the exception of a couple of vintage Spaghetti Westerns, they haven’t been good, will this one be any better?
As Road to Revenge opens bounty hunter Lucy Royal (Alexis Moeller, The Lone Road, Rumor from Ground Control) is in a world of hurt, she’s been captured by Micah Grady (Jeremy A. Lopez, A Devil’s Game) and his men. Luckily for her, her brother Travis (Kellen Garner, Split Lip) isn’t far behind her.
Heading to the nearest town to collect the bounty they’re hit with not one but two surprises. The town is run by William Slade (George Nelson, The Last Gunfighter, Vampire Slayers), the man who killed their mother. And their brothers Brodie (Chade Green) and Pete (Aaron Ginn-Forsberg, Western X, How to Make a Deal With the Devil) are working for him.
Kellen Garner not only stars in Road to Revenge he co-directed it with Christopher Sheffield (The Unaccompanied Runaways, Run for Your Life) and wrote the script from a story by co-star George Nelson. He’s obviously going for an old-school Western feel, something along the lines of The Sons of Katie Elder.
Unfortunately along with the plot device of four bickering and estranged siblings forced to put their differences aside to seek vengeance he also copied that film’s epic length. And while he’s good, he’s no Henry Hathaway or Harry Essex. The result is a film that while good feels like a first cut that is in bad need of editing to tighten it up.
The story of Lucy and Travis runs separately from that of Brody and Pete for the first hour of Road to Revenge. This means by the time the film should be heading into its final act there’s still almost an hour to go. And the dialogue isn’t good enough to hold the audience that long, and the budget wasn’t big enough to fill the time with nonstop action.
The action scenes we do get are a nicely staged mix of gunfights, brawls and even a bare-knuckles boxing match. The climactic showdown between the Royals and Slade and his men is a solid note for Road to Revenge to end on. There’s plenty of bullets flying and bodies dropping which helps to make up for a lot of what I had to sit through to get to it.
Unfortunately, the attempts at character-driven scenes between the bursts of violence don’t work nearly as well. Road to Revenge never really made me feel a family bond between the leads. We get one flashback to the day of the killings, with some child actors who don’t resemble the adult characters, and that’s it. There’s no real effort put into building their past so the scenes of them trying to reconcile and work together didn’t work for me.
And, while it may be a minor quibble, shooting a fleeing man in the back is certainly acceptable behaviour for the protagonist of a gritty Italian Western, but it feels out of place in a film that wants to emulate Hollywood’s version of the frontier. Especially as Travis seems to enjoy doing it repeatedly.
While it may not be the Western I was hoping for, Road to Revenge is the best of the low-budget ones I’ve seen since Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence. Vision Films will release Road to Revenge on VOD in the US and Canada on November 16th. You can check their website or the film’s Facebook page for more details.