So the Brat Pack decided to make a western movie. That was pretty much my opinion when I first heard about this movie. Anyways, I remember thinking that this would be an interesting movie to watch but never saw it while it was in theaters. I would end up catching bits and pieces of it on TV over the years before I finally decided to rent it one day so I could watch the whole thing. Westerns are not really my normal wheelhouse but I was entertained enough to end up getting both this and the sequel when the opportunity presented itself. So let’s sit back and enjoy today’s movie, Young Guns.
The plot: In Lincoln County, New Mexico, local ranch owner John Tunstall is in town with Doc Scurlock, one of the young men he has hired to help work the ranch, when they hear the sound of a gun shot and see a young man, Billy, running down the street, being chased by some men who work for Lawrence Murphy, a well connected Irishman who Tunstall is at odds with. Tunstall decides to help Billy get out of town and takes him back to his place, where Billy sees the other Regulators (Jose Chavez y Chavez, Richard M. “Dick” Brewer, Steve Stephens, and Charlie Bowdre) and Tunstall offers to let him stay there provided he earn his keep. The next day, Billy works at tending to the pigs as Charlie explains what it is they do around there and after supper, Tunstall works at teaching everyone how to read and write. The next day, Billy hides when he sees Murphy, ride up with the sheriff and some of his men. Tunstall and the Regulators go to meet them and when the sheriff says that Murphy is accusing Tunstall of stealing some of his land but Tunstall denies the claim, causing Tunstall and Murphy to argue over their place in town. The next day, a former worker for Murphy, J. McCloskey, shows up looking for work and Tunstall agrees to let him in. That night, they head into town for the New Year’s Eve dance and while he is there, Tunstall speaks to his lawyer, Alexander McSween, about trying to expose Murphy’s corruption to the governor only to be told that Murphy had given a large donation to the governor’s election campaign. During the course of the night, Billy meets a man named Pat Garrett and Doc dances with Yen Sun, a Chinese girl under Murphy’s care only to later be told that she is actually his house slave. As Tunstall and the Regulators head home in the morning, Murphy’s men kill Tunstall and chase after the Regulators but they manage to get away. Later, Alex goes to the Justice of the Peace and asks if he is going to serve warrants on the men responsible for Tunstall’s death and he says no but does deputize the Regulators so they can issue the warrants and arrest the men. When they go to arrest Henry Hill, they send Billy in to the shack he tends to hide out in but when Billy hears that Hill is going to the outhouse, he heads over there and ends up shooting Hill, causing a gun fight to erupt. The next day, Doc reads a newspaper article about the gunfight and Billy, who they nickname The Kid, to the others when he notices Yen Sun walking by and goes to talk to her, but when she refuses to take the flowers he offers her then he tells her to give Murphy a message that they are coming for him. The Regulators manage to capture two of Murphy’s men that they have warrants for but Billy wants to kill them. When McCloskey says that they should go a different route than the one Dick wants to go but Billy notices McCloskey and one of the men sharing a glance and realizes that McCloskey is a traitor and kills him, prompting the Regulators to kill the other men when they try to escape. As they try to figure out there next move, and Billy and Dick argue over who should be leading the group, they see Buckshot Roberts approaching them, as he wants to collect the bounty on Billy’s head. A shoot out occurs, with Chavez and Doc both being wounded as Roberts takes shelter in an outhouse. The Regulators fire into the outhouse and when they don’t hear anything, Dick goes to check it out only to be killed by Roberts. The Regulators agin fire into the outhouse, then leave before more of Murphy’s men can arrive. Later, Doc heads off to write to Dick’s family about his death and get some fresh wrappings for his and Chavez’s wounds. Though Billy warns him to stay out of Lincoln, he heads there anyways and sneaks in to see Yen Sun, trying to convince her to leave with him but she refuses and he is forced to leave when Murphy heads up to her room. When Doc returns, Billy convinces the group that they need to go after Sheriff Brady, as he helped Murphy get away with Tunstall’s murder, and they head into Lincoln and kill him and some of his men. When they go to see Alex, he is furious with them as the governor has revoked their deputization and now the military will be after them. He says they were just supposed to serve the warrants and expose Murphy’s corruption but Billy argues that by killing Brady and bringing more attention to the situation, that President Hayes will have to take notice of what is going on out there. As they go to leave, Alex tells them that he is going to reopen Tunstall’s store and tells them to be careful. As they go to hide out, Charlie wants to spend the night with a woman so they head into a town and give him money for a prostitute. While they wait for him, Billy overhears a man at the bar looking for him and he taunts the man briefly, as he doesn’t know what Billy looks like, before revealing himself and killing him. Suddenly, Charlie bursts into the bar and tells them that John Kinney, an ex soldier turned bounty hunter, and his men are coming and they all quickly ride off, hiding in some thorn bushes to escape detection. As they rest for a while, Billy wants to head back to Lincoln to take out Murphy but the others all want to head to Mexico to get away and Billy, describing the risk it will entail to get to Mexico, decides to go with them. They reach a border town and rest up for the night only to be surprised when Charlie falls in love and decides to marry a local girl. As they celebrate the wedding, Pat Garrett shows up and approaches Billy, telling him that their mutual friend Alex is in danger, as Murphy is planning on killing him on his return to Lincoln. Billy calls out for the Regulators to get ready to ride out and both he and Doc tell Charlie that he should stay, as he has a wife now, but Charlie refuses to let his friends ride off without him. The Regulators head back to Lincoln and go to get Alex and his wife Susan out of town but they realize that it is trap as Murphy’s men begin setting up barricades in front of the house. Kinney and his men show up as well and the Regulators find themselves trapped in the house. As Murphy and Kinney’s men begin shooting at the house, Billy and the others take refuge on the second floor. Murphy arrives to oversee the events just as some soldiers arrive from the nearest army camp, and Murphy tries to get them to leave as he doesn’t want too much attention brought on them. While he argues with the colonel, Yen Sun leaves his wagon and races into the house, choosing to be with Doc. Murphy orders his men to set fire to the house in an attempt to smoke out Billy and the others and Alex yells down that he is sending his wife out so she can get away. Chavez sneaks out of the house and when Steve discovers he is missing, he starts ranting that he went and saved his own skin. Coming up with a plan to try and get away, they all start throwing items out of the windows to avoid having them catch fire, including a large trunk. Suddenly, Billy bursts out of the trunk and begins shooting at the men, while Doc and the others head out the side door. They see Chavez riding towards them with some horses he procured and they move to get on the horses but Billy is wounded. Charlie ends up getting into a shootout with Kinney and they end up killing each other. Doc is wounded but manages to get both him and Yen on a horse so they can ride off. Chavez is shot but Steve helps him back onto the horse, only to be killed as well. Billy is able to get on a horse and escape as well and Alex heads out and yells good luck after them only to be gunned down by a Gatling gun. Murphy starts ranting for everyone to go after them when Billy rides back and shoots Murphy in the head, then leaves town. In a voice over, Doc says that Chavez headed to California, changing his name in the process, and began working on a farm. Doc and Yen moved to New York and got married while Susan stayed in town and continued Alex and Tunstall’s work, resulting in the governor being forced to step down. Billy the kid continued to ride in the New Mexico area until he was eventually killed by Pat Garrett after he was made sheriff. He was buried next to Charlie in Fort Sumner and one night, someone inscribed the word “Pals” on his tombstone.
Young Guns met with mixed reviews from the critics, holding a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most of the critics felt that despite the star power it had, it fell flat as a whole. Much like almost every other movie about the Lincoln County War, John Tunstall is depicted as an older gentleman when he was actually 24 when he was killed. In fact, he was younger than most of the Regulators, with Billy the Kid being one of the only ones younger than him, as he was 20 at the time. Despite the mixed reviews, the movie was a box office success, earning $45.6 million off of an $11 million budget and would spawn a sequel two years later.
So, I may be in the minority on this one but I find this movie pretty entertaining in a guilty pleasure type of way. The acting was good, with Emilio Estevez doing a good job as Billy the Kid. I also liked Keifer Sutherland (Doc), Casey Siemaszko (Charlie) and Lou Diamond Phillips (Chavez) but was kind of indifferent to the others. The story was based on the real events of the Lincoln County Wars, which helped make Billy the Kid famous and they had some fun with their version of it. I thought the scene where Chavez had them drink some mescaline to guide them on a spirit journey was pretty funny. Some of the gun fights seemed a little out there in the sense that nobody was getting hit, while they had an affinity with the slow motion shots when some of the guns were firing and people were actually shot. It’s not the greatest western ever but it is an entertaining movie.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5