Fun `Quick and Dead' a Western put-on extraordinaire

Tuesday, 14 February 1995
M. Scot Skinner

Movies made in the Tucson area are often good for a few laughs, but wait'll you get a load of Sam Raimi's ``The Quick and the Dead.'' Populated with the slow and the deadpan, this is a stylish parody of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns. It's a garish, hip, ludicrous joke.

This film is not a parody in the mile-a-minute, scattershot mode of ``Airplane!'' and its descendants. ``The Quick and the Dead,'' filmed 40 miles southeast of Tucson in Mescal, is a more sophisticated and sustained put-on.

Raimi, director of ``Evil Dead'' and its two sequels, fixes the humor right on the edge of seriousness. When you laugh, and several moments might make you howl, don't be surprised if you get a few dirty looks. Some people will insist on taking this movie seriously. But it must be hard to keep a straight face when Raimi aims his camera through the bullet hole in a guy's head.

It's not easy to make fun of the spaghetti Westerns, since they were so preposterous to begin with. Raimi, however, pulls it off on the sheer force of his visual creativity. His insane camera angles and delirious, almost psychedelic imagery make ``The Quick and the Dead'' a Western sendup to remember.

Sharon Stone plays a mysterious gunslinger who rides into a one-horse town named Redemption with vengeance on her mind. She wears leather pants and talks tough and blesses us with her best Clint Eastwood squint. In her 22nd film, Stone delivers an iconic performance that meshes neatly with the stylized production.

A proud grade-B movie, the flick represents something different for Stone, whose most recent embarrassments were ``The Specialist'' and ``Intersection.'' Despite initial appearances, Stone's character is not the meanest gunslinger in the desert. She's real nice, in fact, a sensible woman who abhors violence and macho theatrics. ``The Quick and the Dead'' might be a parody, but it has a heart.

It also has Gene Hackman as Herod, the unforgiving, tax-happy tyrant who rules Redemption. This dried-up town, full of desperate living, is the site of an annual quick-draw contest, a genteel event sponsored by Herod, who has an uncanny way of winning every year. The winner gets a fistful of dollars.

The gunfights are held in the dusty main street, over which a clock tower looms. The hopefuls this year include the Kid, a cocky little dude played with flair by Leonardo DiCaprio, and an outlaw-turned-minister played by Australian actor Russell Crowe.

One by one, the gunslingers are dropped to the dirt. Working from a clever screenplay by Simon Moore, Raimi finds new ways to build the tension and humor for every duel. The fateful, climactic fight is staged with spectacular, excessive creativity.

The director stocks his film with the scuzziest collection of lowlifes you've ever seen. Redemption is a hellhole where the good are far outnumbered by the bad and the really, really ugly.

``The Quick and the Dead,'' on the other hand, is pretty and slick.

``The The Quick and the Dead,'' directed by Sam Raimi, with Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and Leonardo DiCaprio. Rated R. It's playing at Century Park, El Dorado and DeAnza Drive-In.