The first thing I liked about the off-kilter Western “The Kid” was the seemingly ridiculous casting of Chris Pratt as an absolutely terrible human being.
I mean, come on: Chris Pratt? After “Parks and Recreation” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jurassic World” and “Lego Movie” franchises, this guy is ahead of Winnie-the-Pooh on the Cuddly Index.
Even with the thick facial hair obfuscating his visage and the change-up in his delivery, are we really supposed to buy into the idea of Pratt as a sociopathic, cutthroat outlaw in the Old West, hell-bent on revenge?
Pratt is that good at shifting gears, and screenwriter Andrew Lanham and actor-director Vincent D’Onofrio are that good when it comes to crafting an outlandish and original take on the legend of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, as told from a unique point of view.
The main kid in “The Kid” isn’t Billy the Kid. It’s actually 14-year-old Rio Cutler (Jake Schur), who is on the run with his older sister Sara (Leila George) after Rio killed their abusive father and wounded their uncle Grant (Pratt).
As luck (and the screenplay) would have it, Rio and Sara cross paths with the lawman Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke) and Garrett’s longtime adversary, one Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan), and their journeys become inextricably linked.
First-time director D’Onofrio has as an admirable visual style, whether we get medium-long-shot takes or intimate close-ups. This is a good-looking period piece film, percolating with top-tier performances.
DeHaan portrays Billy the Kid as a self-aware rock star who revels in attention, courts the press and seems to have little or no regrets even as Garrett leads him to the gallows.
In the meantime, Hawke’s Pat Garrett has a melancholy grasp of reality.
“You know what it means when they start writing about you?” Pat says to Billy. “It means you’ve already died.”
DeHaan, milking every moment, is well-cast as the charming but duplicitous Billy the Kid, who is 50 percent sincere and 50 percent tall tale with every word he speaks.
Hawke, dripping with sincerity in his sad mustache and uncool hat, strikes an entirely different tone as the pious Pat Garrett, who never misses an opportunity to pontificate and reflect on his life choices.
Little wonder young Rio makes the mistake of rolling his eyes at Garrett’s life lessons, and initially choosing the wrong role model as he becomes a kind of mini-Billy the Kid.
Of all the stories told about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, “The Kid” is quite possibly the most Fake News version ever.
So what. Tell that to Rio.
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Vincent D’Onofrio and written by Andrew Lanham. Rated R (for violence and language). Running time: 99 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters and on demand.