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I see the debate is lively here as to which was the better 1993 take on the Earp legend, Kasdan's *Wyatt Earp* or Cosmatos' *Tombstone*. If you prefer the former, fair enough, but I'm about to demonstrate why you're mistaken. But the main thrust of my proof is against those here who are petulantly declaring that the two movies shouldn't be compared.
Ah, but if you're presuming to form a critical opinion about this movie, they SHOULD be compared, because the comparison lays bare the fundamental problem with Kasdan's approach to the material. Namely, the director -- who, by the way, I respect, believing him to be a more accomplished director than Cosmatos -- is trapped by an overlong, meandering script whose entire first half should have been redacted with red ink. Okay, here's the problem: after an anticipation-building introduction on the morning of the O.K. Corral gunfight, we're primed for action . . . or at least, we're primed for the build-up leading to the incipient gunfight. But, NO! -- we tumble back all the way to the Civil War era, in which a teenage Wyatt Earp tries to run away from his home to go join his older brothers in the fight. A forceful Gene Hackman as the patriarch nips this in the bud, and furnishes frontier-spun mottoes to the precocious youth that are supposed to explain Wyatt's conduct and personality later in the film. The movie meanders on. We see Wyatt as a young man driving stagecoaches. He travels all around the West, but is saving his heart for a genteel lady back in Missouri. We see him court the young lady. (For 10-15 minutes.) He marries the young lady. Who, by the way, we know from the get-go is going to drop dead. Finally she does, followed by Wyatt going on a tear as an alcoholic horse-thief. We await for someone to bail him out of jail (after all, how can be in Arizona 15 years later if he's going to get hung in Arkansas?); someone does. We're not done. A somewhat surlier Wyatt spends some time as a buffalo-hunter in Kansas, hiring the Masterson brothers as skinners. We sit watching all this numbly, waiting for him to finally get deputized in Dodge. Finally, he does. After which, Kevin Costner's mullet gets trimmed and petroleum jelly is applied atop his head. Uh, we're still not in Arizona, yet. We watch Wyatt keep the peace in Dodge for a while. He calls Bill Pullman's Ed Masterson "affable" several times (this is meant to be an insult). Wyatt's brothers, or some of them anyway, show up with their wives, who resent his high-handed manner and his insistence on moving them all to Tombstone, Arizona with the intention of striking it rich on mining claims. We MUST be getting close to the action, because the characters are talking about Tombstone, but . . . nope, we have to wait till Wyatt is fired by the Dodge City fathers for his head-bashing tactics, which impels him to work as a U.S. Marshall for awhile, the purpose of which is to enable him to meet Doc Holliday (a splendid, emaciated Dennis Quaid) for the first time. The latter, when speaking to Wyatt, ends each of his sentences with "Wyatt Earp?" -- as in, "Do you believe in friendship, Wyatt Earp?" or even "How are your teeth, Wyatt Earp?" This goes on for 5 minutes or so.
Cut, cut. Take out the red pen and swiftly slash lines through all the preceding material. If you're going to tell the Tombstone episode of Wyatt Earp's life, then we don't CARE about any of that other stuff. We don't CARE why Wyatt is the way he is; we'll accept his legend at face value, for God's sake. Sheesh! If you want to tell a story about Young Wyatt Earp, Old Wyatt Earp, or some other aspect of Wyatt Earp, then tell that story. Compare how Cosmatos handled this material in his *Tombstone*: after introducing us to the principal villains, we see the Earp brothers step off the train in Tombstone. See? Simple! I mean, Kasdan tries to make the most out of all the unnecessary material -- that introduction scene, for example, between Costner and Quaid IS kind of funny -- but you just can't cram a mini-series into a 3-hour movie. If we're doing the Tombstone stuff, then get to the damn point, already. As it is now, the movie has wasted so much time with irrelevancies that there's little space left to show why the Earps and Clantons are heading for a showdown in the first place. Wyatt's girlfriend Josie pleads, "Why? I don't understand it!" Neither do we. The movie can only come to rickety halt with an unexciting final shootout in the desert, followed by a tacked-on denouement on a cruise ship.
Finally, Kasdan is not helped any by Kevin Costner. As the young Wyatt, Costner unconvincingly portrays him as a slightly retarded rube. And once the petroleum jelly makes its appearance, Costner falls back onto his Surly Mode: grumpy, expressionless, tending toward psychosis. He's always saying things like, "For two years I've been in a bad mood", or "I'm not in the mood", or "I don't care anymore", or "I'm Wyatt Earp -- it all ends now!" Jeez, what a dour hero. Compare this with Kurt Russell's take on the man: a genial guy looking for a good time, tempered into toughness by the lawlessness of the Old West, but still able to smile. Costner's stern Puritan interpretation belies much of what we see Wyatt actually doing, such as dealing faro in saloons in which he owns a quarter-interest, or sharing his bed with former prostitutes and traveling showgirls. His performance is all wrong for such a man. I, for one, couldn't care less about this sourpuss.
3 stars out of 10.
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