Big Kill is the kind of Western that checks all the genre boxes, but lacks the finesse to become a picture greater than the sum of its parts. All of the usual suspects are here. There’s a city man headed into the wild yonder. A couple of misfit ne’er-do-wells who find so much trouble it seems they’re looking for it. A power-hungry preacher. And sex workers, in two varieties: heart of gold and heartless. When they all converge in Big Kill, Arizona, the stage is set for a showdown.
Imagine, if you will, every Western trope you can, from the local bad ass (Lou Diamond Phillips as gunslinging Johnny Kane) to the boom town gone bust, and you can imagine what passes between the introduction of our heroes and the big shootout to settle it all. Big Kill might play for genre enthusiasts craving a new take on the familiar stories, but for occasional viewers, it’s trying both way too hard and not hard enough. The whole affair is formulaic in the extreme, but most of the cast doesn’t seem bothered to hit even that standard bar, instead opting to more talk their lines than deliver them with purpose.
The great exceptions here, of course, are Lou Diamond Phillips and Danny Trejo, who seem to be having too much fun to phone it in, even if everything else here is straight down the middle fine. Their scenes never fail to provide a pop of excitement and flair that rewards the viewer for following this twisting yarn to its inevitable conclusion.
For most of us, Big Kill won’t provoke more than an unenthusiastic “big whoop,” but Western fans may well find fun to be had here. Scott Martin’s script is clearly written from the place of someone who loves these stories and wants to see them back as more than an occasional prestige picture based on a celebrated novel. The case for that would be stronger if the finish here was neater, but for better or worse, Big Kill decidedly is what it is.