Casper v Rootin- Tootin’ cowboys and gunslingers and whatnot in the Old West: Aces ‘N Eights.
This odyssey through the annals of Casper Van Dien films really wasn’t thought out properly. I mean, I did know that he’d been in a quite staggering amount of DTV crap, but I also made the foolish assumption that there were enough gems, hidden or otherwise, to carry me over the obligatory and inevitable rough periods. So far, I’m 4 films in (I am including Dracula 3000 for this) and I have to say that not one of them is acceptable. Meltdown had its moments of cretinous stupidity, and Revenant had a quite simply staggering amount of boob, but neither of them were what could be remotely described as actually good films (the less said about Dracula 3000 the better). I’m honestly starting to think that I should bump either Starship Troopers or Sleepy Hollow up the queue, as the forthcoming films are simply going to be a trial to get through. In the meantime, however, I’ll just post this review to a quite spectacularly misguided film- it’s Casper’s 2008 foray into the old west: Aces ‘N Eights.
There are some genres out there that our favourite Dutch descendant is perfect for. For example, he’s right at home as a knuckleheaded space marine killing bugs on a different planet, but he’d be less at home playing a high-flying surgeon with a dark secret (which I believe would go something like this):
Nurse: “Doctor, the patient is going into cardiac arrest”
Dr. Van Dien: “WOAH, Nurse sugar tits, break out that shocky panel dohicky thing and we’ll apply it to her sweet, sweet ass- that I’ll be tapping once we’ve saved her life”
Joey Tribiani would have nothing on Casper. Anyhow, as grossly inappropriate as the above is, I’m sorry to report that we can now add the noble Western to the list of genres that Casper is just fundamentally wrong for. It just doesn’t fit his skillset: he’s fine as a clean-shaven, muscle-bound lug that can kick some ass and shout out motivational slogans, or even with a big dopey smile playing a practical joke on Ichabod Crane, but he’s not fine playing a grizzled ex-gunslinger protecting his boss’s land from mean railroad tycoon types.
Aces N’ Eights is named after the Dead Man’s Hand that Jesse James was apparently holding when he was killed. That’s a pretty pointless piece of trivia, actually, that not that many people know. Unfortunately the writers of this are aware that not too many people know it, so one of the characters in an aggravating bit of exposition stops the film to explain where it came from.
Stop digressing, Jarv, you’ll never get through this if you don’t.
Right, back on track. Casper plays Luke Rivers. Luke is a gun for hire that has tired of the brutality of his profession and started working on land owned by Ernest Borgnine’s Thurmond Prescott: landowner, old codger, and all round nice guy. He’s also got time to
stalk fall in love with Dierdire Quinn’s Jo. Unfortunately, Howard (William Atherton) is determined that his railroad should run right through the middle of Prescott’s land and has hired evil gunslinger Tate (Jeff Kober) and Cracker (Bruce Boxleitner)- I’m not joking about that name by the way- to clean out the stubborn landowners. In the midst of this Riley (Jack Noseworthy) has been sent down from Chicago (as apparently a lawyer, but he turns into a surveyor later in the film) to find an amicable solution to the impasse. People die, shit happens, Cracker changes sides, big showdown between Tate and the railroad types and Luke and Cracker.
There are myriad problems with this film. The most important being that it’s boring. Tate and crew do enliven things up periodically by randomly shooting people, but the film is at such pains to make sure that we, the dimwitted viewers, understand that Tate is a really bad guy that it has several pointless pieces of dialogue between the henchmen about how it was a pity that Farmwife X was shot so early because he hadn’t had his turn raping her. There was never any indication, by the way, that such antics were about to occur. It’s just dull. Furthermore, the film goes out of its way to paint Riley as a good guy in a bad situation, and so we’re exposed to much tedium in its endeavours. The entire Riley sub-plot cripples the film, and is just one of the many things that makes it seem like it is taking an eternity.
Secondly, the characters are the most ridiculous one-note clichéd cardboard cut outs. Howard, for example, is a megalomaniac Rail Baron, and that’s all. We know this, because we only ever see him in his office berating families and ordering Tate around. Tate, on this note, is a man-in-black-hat which is fine as I don’t require the villains in films like these to be multi-faceted. Furthermore, Aces ‘N Eights features a kid about to go into battle for the first time, Cracker is an alcoholic hard-as-nails seen it all bounty hunter and bloody Luke was clearly written with the central character from Unforgiven in mind. It’s mindblowingly boring stuff, and I don’t ever want to hear dialogue from characters explaining the sole feature of other characters such as Jo saying “He just doesn’t want you to make your life the gun, like he did, he loves you, you know”.
Against such a torrent of lacklustre writing, the acting doesn’t stand a chance. Casper is, as mentioned, woefully miscast, and actually gets worse when he’s forced to look “grizzled” but actually looks like a designer stubble douchebag who just stepped from a Salon in Beverly Hills. Atherton, Boxleitner, Noseworthy and Kober aren’t given a chance to shine, really, although Noseworthy does look like he’s about to burst into tears because of all the decency welling out of him on more than one occasion. Yet it isn’t a dead loss, as Aces ‘N Eights has one trump card that most of these films don’t have: Ernest Borgnine. He brings a sparkle to the old codger, and his inevitable death marks a slump that the film never recovers from: Casper simply doesn’t have the chops to carry the rest of it.
All of the above, I could just about cope with were the film not so predictable. Basically, every single beat of this film can be seen in advance, and I won’t spoil it, but you know that X incident has to happen at Y time in the film and the whole film is building up to the show down. To further aggravate this, and again I won’t spoil it, the gunfight itself kills the people you expect to be killed in the order you expect them to die, with the coup de grace being delivered by the exact character in the exact situation that you expect to see it. I’m not asking anyone to reinvent the wheel here, and I am aware that there’s a formula to these films (John Wayne, for example= shoot people, ride from point A to point B taking the longest possible route, say something ornery, ride back from point B to point A taking an even longer route, shoot more people, drawl a bit, end) that has produced some of the greatest movies ever made, but really, a little bit of originality would go a long, long way here.
Overall, I do not recommend this film. I nearly bought out my first 0 rating for it but I’m not going to for 2 reasons: 1) there’s going to be far worse in this series, and more importantly, Borgnine is quite good and I’m damned if I’m handing out a minimum to a film with a performance like his in it. Nevertheless, Aces ‘N Eights is a terrible and boring film, and has managed to put me off westerns for a good while. Therefore, while it isn’t getting a 0, I am giving it half a mobile infantry Casper with the caveat that this half is entirely awarded for Borgnine.
Aces ‘N Eights? More like Arse ‘N Shites.
Until next time,