They say never judge a book by its cover, but let’s add movies to that old cliché, too. A movie cover that entails a dusty photograph of evil-looking horsemen and the title South of Heaven, West of Hell should prove to be a timeless classic in the western genre. However, that’s where I made my first mistake. OK, so it was the name Paul Reubens and a picture of him as a cowboy that struck me first as I glanced at the cover, but the title gave the impression that all hell would break loose when I slipped the VHS into the player. The names Billy Bob Thornton, Vince Vaughn, and Dwight Yoakam brought even more wideness to my eyes, and I knew right then that I must watch this movie. That was my next mistake.
Another mistake was to assume that the soundtrack would be somewhat similar to the typical southwestern flair ever present on Yoakam’s albums. There was only one instance where I found the music to be remotely appropriate for the movie. The music was as out of place as the Caribbean sounds heard on True Romance. The closing credits — occurring after a very sub-par shootout — were actually set to a torn up, jazzy tune. What happened to hard-ass songs like “Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room” or the old classic guitarwork of spaghetti westerns? But at least the music was not as bad as Yoakam’s directing.
Let me say one thing first. I am a fan of Dwight Yoakam’s music and admire him for becoming a director and shooting a western. He’s even a pretty decent actor. However, his sole purpose for creating this movie must have only been to make out with gorgeous women. Let’s face it: Yoakam isn’t going to give Brad Pitt a run for his money as the sexiest man of the year, but when you’re starring in your own movie, you’re going get lucky. I as a consumer do not want to watch Yoakam make out with Bridget Fonda in a hot air balloon next to her deaf sister. Nor do I want to watch him sensually stick his finger into a cherry pie some floozy baked for him. I have my limits.
If I had to sum up the movie in one sentence, I would describe it as a “PBS western directed by Quentin Tarantino as a soap opera.” It was as dry as the desert they shot it in and slathered with dull dialogue that really had no impact. It would have been more enjoyable if Dwight had picked up a guitar and sang as in some ’60s Elvis flick. The movie was definitely gruesome and never short on the f‑bomb, but there was nothing offensive about the pathetic fight scenes. The shootouts were no more realistic than a reenactment I watched last spring in an Arizona ghost town.
The movie did have its moments, if you’re one of those that enjoys watching the occasional Faces of Death flick. Maybe it was the man who stepped in a month-old “shithole” or the scene where a cowboy has one of his testicles removed and dropped in a bucket. No wait, it was the guy “getting his nut off” in the jail cell… or was it Pee Wee Herman trying to rape Sheriff Yoakam’s lady? I can’t remember which was the most repulsive, but they all set off my gag reflex. The scenes were definitely original and disgustingly comical, but the energy used to create them should have been saved for shootouts, or just about anything else. At least give me something to savor other than blood discharging from a man’s crotch.
Written by Nolan Shigley.