“Sometimes it takes a good man to stop bad people.” – Words of semi-wisdom from an elder statesman in “Hickok.”
If you give “Hickok” a try expecting to see the hunky Aussie best known for playing “Thor,” or the hunky Aussie best known for the “Hunger Games” movies, please know this movie does not star Chris Hemsworth, nor does it star Liam Hemsworth.
This one features their older brother Luke.
You might know Luke from the HBO series “Westworld.” You might not know him at all.
You might believe him as Wild Bill Hickok, the legendary soldier/spy/gunslinger/lawman/gambler/actor/womanizer of the mid-19th century.
I did not.
Despite all of Hemsworth’s wincing and growling and squinting and barking and guttural howls, it felt like he was delivering a grade-B take on Clint Eastwood in a grade-B Western.
Also, every time Luke/Wild Bill takes off his shirt — and that happens quite a bit in this film — he looks more like a former college linebacker than a denizen of the American Midwest circa the 1860s and 1870s. Was he bench-pressing horses and using a straight razor to eliminate all torso hair?
Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr., written by Michael Lanahan and featuring an entertaining supporting cast dotted with some pretty big names, “Hickok” is not without its corny, borderline-cheesy moments of fun — but it eventually loses steam due to the increasingly cliché-riddled story developments, not to mention the awkwardly edited shootouts that sometimes make it seem as if the combatants filmed their scenes on separate days.
After a prologue set during the Civil War, featuring an overwrought score and some bad acting, we find Wild Bill Hickok on the run from the law as he rides into Abilene, Kansas, which just might be the roughest and rowdiest and most lawless town in all the land.
Popular country musician Trace Adkins hams it up as Phil Poe, an evil cuss with really, really long hair and a mean streak a mile wide. Poe is with Cameron Richardson’s Mattie, who of course doesn’t dare tell Poe about her long-ago past with Wild Bill — but that doesn’t stop Poe from suspecting she’s hiding something. That Poe, he wasn’t born yesterday.
Hunter Fischer plays Mattie’s young son Joey as if he’s been instructed to do a parody of every tow-headed kid in every Western movie and TV show from days gone by. “Bill is my hero!” Joey says over and over. It’s a wonder Joey doesn’t run after Bill shouting, “Shane! I mean Bill! Come back!”
My favorite performance in the film comes from Bruce Dern, enthusiastically loopy as the booze-soaked town doctor. You can rarely accuse Bruce Dern of phoning it in.
I also enjoyed Kris Kristofferson as Bill’s world-weary mentor (although Kristofferson MIGHT be phoning it in at times), and Kaiwi-Lyman Mersereau as John Wesley Hardin, a more interesting and complex figure than Hickok, at least in this telling of the tale.
Also, kudos to the wardrobe people for outfitting one particular group of hired henchmen in the most fabulous matching tan gunslinger outfits. It’s as if inspiration came from vintage J. Peterman catalogs.
Cinedigm presents a film directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. and written by Michael Lanahan. No MPAA rating. Running time: 90 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC Woodridge 18 and on demand.