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of Red Rock (2001)
How many times will
screenwriters continue to think they're doing something new and innovative by dribbling
out Westerns that feature one or more characters pontificating about how "times have
changed"? This idea should have been put to rest after The Wild Bunch; it's not like that film's going to
be bettered anytime soon. Even The Grey Fox treated this hackneyed theme with all
the respect it deserved, and no more, and lightened the tone with more than a little
self-deprecating humor from the late Richard Farnsworth. No such luck with Warden Of
Red Rock, which lumbers onto the screen seemingly without any concept of its own
obsolescence, and so much half-baked existential baggage it plays like a parody of Shane ghost-written by Samuel Beckett.
James Caan plays the title character, a prison warden, the most
unflinchingly noble and dignified man in the film. He treats his prisoners humanely, puts
guards who mistreat convicts in isolation (this is supposedly in 1910, mind you--not
exactly the Golden Age of prison reform), and goes so far beyond the pale in fulfilling
the dying wish of a condemned man that by film's end, he's practically married to the
widow (who is of course saddled with a darling--and bilingual--child). David Carradine
plays a murderous lifer, and ex-running buddy of Caan's from his "wild days,"
who turns up in Red Rock. Will he escape, and have to be hunted down? The viewer's degree
of suspense as the plot unwinds itself is entirely relative to how many Westerns he or she
has seen before this one.
A respectable pile of bodies accrues, naturally, and Caan gets enough
scenes of staring manfully out the window or into the desert landscape, contemplating his
lonely, macho existence, to satisfy the ham that lurks just under his topmost layer of
skin. Carradine as the villain essentially plays the great-grandfather of his character in
Death Race 2000, and seems to be having more fun
with the role than the viewer will. Executive producer Brian Dennehy turns in a few
perfunctory scenes, but it's hard to understand why. This isn't an unremittingly awful
movie; it's merely boring, and essentially pointless. It has just enough ideas to make its
failure to realize them glaringly obvious.