REVIEW: Young Guns (1988) – Christopher Cain, Emilio Estevez

Young Guns - image property Lionsgate

Young Guns… just doesn’t work. Loosely based on the events of the 1878 Lincoln County War, this high concept blockbuster fills a roll of doomed outlaws with shallow young actors who were the time’s teen heartthrobs. It shoots for something between an action movie and a buddy comedy, but misses both marks and fails to hit any sort of happy medium.

The film opens on the ranch of English rancher John Tunstall (Terrence Stamp), who we are to believe is some kind of benevolent collector of lost boys. This group of supposedly loveable misfits, including actors Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, call themselves The Regulators and act as cattle guards for Tunstall, who treats them as family he must educate and civilize.

They are joined by budding young outlaw Billy the Kid, Emilio Estevez at the height of his brat pack-era success and good looks.

Estevez and his character are the biggest problem with the film. Estevez’s Billy the Kid is clearly a psychopath, gleefully escalating their situation at every opportunity and executing armed and unarmed men alike. It seems there is an erroneous presumption that Estevez himself has the charisma to make the character relatable, but he’s never even close to making it work.

This wouldn’t be so bad if Young Guns aspired to be a grittily realistic period piece, but a sense that it thinks of itself as a light-hearted romp, a kind of Mighty Ducks with guns, runs disturbingly throughout, even in scenes where major characters are being shot down like flies. The horrible ‘80s rock soundtrack does nothing to help, with some truly inappropriate musical cues.

Overall, while some might look to Young Guns with a certain amount of nostalgic affection, it is not a movie which will make a substantial contribution to anyone’s life, and should be avoided if possible.

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