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As the American Western continues its current revival, many directors are looking to find new and experimental ways to breath some life into this classic genre. With Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story, there isn’t much in terms of innovation, but it does fill the gap between the next in line, providing a few good bits of action and plenty of old cowboy standards.
Nathanial Reed (Trace Adkins) and his gang are stagecoach thieves, preferring the smaller risks but lucrative loot. The trick is to hold the attention at the front of the coach and then spring a surprise when they are forced to stop. This mostly works until one day they stop a stage with a man named Calhoun (Kim Coates) up on driver’s box. Reed and his boys make off with the lockbox but in a gunfight that follows, Calhoun takes a shot to the eye.
Some time later, as the film explains, Reed is law-abiding, set up on a small ranch with a wife named Laura Lee (Michelle Harrison). He’s gone legit, seen as a respectable member of society, but the farm is going under and the bank is threatening foreclosure. On top of that, Laura Lee is feeling a little under the weather and when the doc comes, naturally, he suspects she’s pregnant. But all that doesn’t matter much when suddenly one of Reed’s old outlaw buddies shows up. He’s Frank Bell (Claude Duhamel), and warns Reed things are about to get bad. The words barely out of his mouth, in rides Calhoun wearing a Marshal’s badge accompanied by a wily trigger-happy sidekick named Bonnie Mudd (Helena Marie). A gunfight follows and in the aftermath, Bell rushes Reed out to the horses to escape, telling him that Calhoun has murdered Laura Lee. Now on the run, Reed and Bell meet up with their old friend and gunslinger Sid (Judd Nelson). It’s back to the old life and a weary road that leads only to trouble.
Directed by Terry Miles, Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story is a competently made action film shot on a low budget that while sparse in plot manages to have a few good moments. Based on the true life story of John Wilson Vermillion, who made an infamous name for himself in the time of the old west, there are some liberties with the truth of course, but his story is a compelling one even if it’s not as well presented as it might have been. Miles keeps this low-key and tame, edited and shot more like a family film than in the same vein as many other current western movies that are taking the genre more and more into gruesome violence and even touches of horror.
Adkins makes for an imposing cowboy, his tall stature and baritone voice practically tailor-made for this kind of role and he generally keeps it entertaining, if not a little dry. He is a bit older than the character should be and in appearance, looks better suited to be Laura Lee’s father than husband, but what else is new in Hollywood. Coming off better is Nelson, who is quite good as Sid, effortlessly giving the character some depth and is easily the most comfortable on camera. Issues arise in the script where things don’t quite feel authentic, especially concerning a plot point about Laura Lee and how Reed is manipulated. The larger problem is editing though, clearly at the mercy of the budget, where the flow is sometimes jarring. Also too, there is no grand sense of time or space to the production, as is expected in a western, looking mostly like it was shot in a few locations that don’t offer the atmosphere the genre typically lends itself. It’s set in Texas but filmed in Canada.
Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story isn’t going to make any sweeping changes to the classic western film, and indeed never tries. Telling a story that is well worth learning, it serves mostly as a vehicle to urge the viewer to do so on their own. For fans of the country western singer, it might play well. For others, it’s another run-of-the-mill adventure.
Director: Terry Miles
Writers: Dan Benamor, Matt Williams
Stars: Trace Adkins, Kim Coates, Judd Nelson