South of Heaven, West of Hell

As a country singer, Dwight Yoakam is popular, with many albums, thousands of fans, and a decent amount of respect. He slowly made his way as a supporting actor, appearing recently in films such as The Minus Man and The Newton Boys. In these films, he does a good job. Yoakam is not ready to take a leading role. He is also not ready to direct. South of Heaven, West of Hell was written, directed by, and stars Yoakam, but has little more depth than the average junk that passes for country music nowadays. This is the type of western that tries to look deeper and examine the psyches of its participants, but never accomplishes this, or anything else. It feels like a collection of unfinished, unrefined ideas, moving slowly across the screen punctuated only by moments of cartoonish violence.

Valentine Casey (Yoakam) is a marshal in a small, Arizona town. He fought to renown in Cuba. He grew up with a family of crooks. Some of those crooks, including Taylor Henry (Vince Vaughn, The Cell, Psycho), come to town and viciously rob the bank. Casey apparently resigns and vows to track down his old 'family,' and either kill them all, bring them to court, or both. A year later, Casey is selling horses and meets Adalyne Dunfries (Bridget Fonda, Monkeybone, Lake Placid). Needless to say, the Henry's make another appearance. Yoakam stretches this over an unbearable two hours. By the time the movie is over, Casey's motivations still make no sense, along with much of the rest of the movie.

It is a case of good actors in horrible roles. Billy Bob Thornton (Pushing Tin, Franky Goes to Hollywood) and Peter Fonda (Thomas and the Magic Railroad, The Limey) make appearances, but the less said about them the better. Paul Reubens (Blow, Mystery Men) has an even smaller role. Vaughn is barely in the film, which leaves Yoakam the bulk of the screen time. He does not have a magnetic presence, although this may be due to the story, which he wrote with the help of Otto Felix, Dennis Hackin (Marked for Murder) and Stan Berthaud (Painted Hero). More is not better. Also not helping is his baby blue polka dotted hankerchief, which makes him look like some nancy boy instead of a tough cowboy.

South of Heaven, West of Hell never tells what Casey did for that year, or how the bank robbery affected him, although something major happened. When the story catches up to him, he does not seem too concerned with finding the Henrys. There is little going on between the ears of any of these characters. Random cussing, nudity, and death are not enough to keep the viewer awake. There is nothing special about any of the settings or production values, and the music (which Yoakam helped score) consists of a small, repeating line done over and over with various instruments. South of Heaven, West of Hell, is not a good place to be.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
2 hours, 7 minutes, Rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexuality.

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