Whenever we read books or see films about the Wild West era in the United States you get the feeling that something is missing, but you cannot quite put your finger on it. Well, let me help you. What is usually missing are the stories being told from the perspectives of African Americans. Brought over by the boatload during the era of slavery many people of colour lived in the United States and were freed after the Civil War in 1863. That does not mean racism disappeared unfortunately.
In the late part of the 19th century there was a real push for land and expansion in the U.S. so people began moving West. As these new towns and societies began to crop up it was hard to keep the peace and the era began to be known as the Wild West. Lawlessness ruled. A colourful era many books, television shows and films were written or shot about this time in U.S. history. It just lends to storytelling. Like most history books there are usually pages missing though in that blacks are rarely represented. Actor/director Mario Van Peeples has made a film to somewhat make up for the …let’s call it an oversight.
In 1892 the Spanish-American War was raging on. Colonel Graham (Billy Zane – Titanic, Dead Calm) is leading a group of soldiers which includes several men of colour. A despicable man he ends up betraying his infantrymen, made up mostly of the black soldiers, and they decide to desert. Before they go they manage to get their hands on a cache of gold, which they naturally bring with them on the run.
Graham, the vindictive type, is not about to just let them go and he pursues the deserters. The sullen and mostly silent, but great with a pistol, Jesse Lee (Mario Van Peeples – Ali, New Jack City) is their leader. He leads them to his hometown, Freemanville, only to find that racism has reared its ugly head there too.
Jesse Lee has returned as he has some unfinished business in Freemanville. He wants to find the man who lynched his father. And maybe rekindle his romance with former girlfriend, Lana (Salli Richardson-Whitfield – Antwone Fisher, I Am Legend).
Though this is not exactly a big budget film it did have a fairly well-known cast for a film originally released in 1993. Besides Zane and Van Peeples there was also rapper Big Daddy Kane, Stephen Baldwin, Blair Underwood, Isaac Hayes, Pam Grier, Nipsey Russell, Aaron Neville, and rapper Tone Loc. The cast does a fairly good job with what is not exactly the best script.
Though Mario Van Peeples was correct in his attempt to bring a little bit of the black outlaw or cowboy to the screen his execution is not the greatest. The action parts with all the gun shooting and fistfights are well done, but the dialogue and story are weak. Despite the large and talented ensemble cast most are either misused or underused. Characters, maybe because there are too many, are not well developed. Stylistically Van Peeples is obviously going for the Spaghetti Western genre, but, unlike his character’s shooting talent, he is off target often. Worst of all the entire film feels rushed. That is except for a ridiculous sex scene that Van Peeples (one half of the scene, of course) decided to shoot in a kind of slow mo style.