As the flow of horror films starts to slow down, Westerns seem to be coming back to fill the void that’s left. The Desperate Riders is the third horse opera to be released in the past week, following in the trails of No Name and Dynamite and A Tale of Two Guns. It’s also the third we’ve recently reviewed from director Michael Feifer (Catch the Bullet, The Last Shoot Out) this time working from a script by Lee Martin.
Young Billy (Sam Ashby) has gotten himself into a bit of a bind. His winning streak at the local saloon has the other players certain he must be cheating, and they’re ready to settle in with gunfire. Only the arrival of Kansas Red (Drew Waters), hero of numerous dime novels, saves him. But Red takes a bullet in the process. Doc Thomas (Tom Berenger, Doc Holliday’s Revenge, Training Day) stitches him up and informs him that he’s shot one of the sheriff’s relatives as well as one of the Casey boys and he might want to get out of town.
Meanwhile, Thorn (Trace Adkins, Apache Junction, Old Henry) and his men have ridden into town, killed Billy’s father, and kidnapped his mother Carol (Victoria Pratt, The Last Heist, Lazer Team 2) with the intention of making her his wife.
It’s not the most original of plots to be sure, nor is the opening act of The Desperate Riders anything special in its execution either. The action is fairly blandly shot and everything looks way too clean, especially when characters are supposed to have been on the trail for days.
In other words, The Desperate Riders is an utterly generic direct to video Western whose idea of being original is having Billy and Red accompanied by Leslie (Vanessa Evigan, Sand Sharks, Blood Ransom) a female sharpshooter who escaped from Thorn’s clutches and, briefly, by an African-American cowhand named Finnegan who’s played by “Hick Hop” artist Cowboy Troy, best known for guesting on a couple of Big and Rich songs.
The midsection of the film bogs down in talk as our heroes trail Thorn and his men. They come across the aftermath of the gang’s raids, but it’s about as exciting as finding an already dead victim in a horror film. It does however give them a reason to have Finnegan exit the story to make sure the deceased’s kids get to safety.
They probably should have had Leslie stay with the kids because as well as being a good shot she also has a bad effect on the bad guys, one of Thorn’s goons, Thatch (Brock O’Hurn, The Resort, The Righteous Gemstones) trying to force himself on her on two separate occasions. Considering the first time he tried she knocked him out and escaped, you would think he would have known better than to try again.
The Desperate Riders does pull a couple of surprises out in the final act. Granted it’s not that big of a twist and both the script and some of the film’s publicity hint at part of it. But it’s delivered so flatly it wouldn’t have mattered, what should have been game-changing, and for at least one character, life-changing revelations come off like something from a bad soap opera.
I don’t expect much in the way of direction from Michael Feifer, when you’re cranking out seventy-two films in seventeen years all that matters is getting something done on time and on budget. With the right cast and material it might actually turn out good, but that’s a bonus The Desperate Riders doesn’t give us.
Unfortunately, The Desperate Riders also suffers from a script that’s two-thirds generic and then collapses into an extremely weak ending and a lifeless performance from Adkins as the film’s villain. He’s not an actor and gets cast based on his size and name recognition from his string of country hits. Hell, even I’ve heard “This Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing” and, unfortunately, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”. He’s tolerable in small roles, but he’s way out of his depth here.
Lionsgate has released The Desperate Riders to Digital and VOD platforms. It will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on April 5th. You can check the website for more information.