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observation notes: 6 Guns

6 Guns is the first out-and-out western by The Asylum, and as straight-to-DVD films of such a genre go, it's a success.

The story, written by Geoff Meed (Universal Soldiers, I Am Omega), concerns a family of homesteaders - Pa, Ma and two boys - whose domestic bliss is shattered by a pack of vigilantes come to enact vengeance for the death of their leader(also Geoff Meed)'s father, killed by Pa back when he was a quick-drawing lawman. Long story short, the men folk are killed and Ma is assaulted multiple times and left for dead. Big mistake.

At this point the film becomes a kind of feminist take on the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher revenge classic 7 Men From Now, here with Sage Mears as the wife substituting for Randolph Scott's grieving widower, seeking to enact a vengeance of her own.

(This follows an extended dance between Wifey and the bottle that at last comes to an end when she meets Bounty Hunter Extraordinaire Barry Van Dyke, who she asks to take shootin' lessons from, the training she needs for the recently-mentioned mission of vengeance. This is a pretty big plot point to be a parenthetical, I know, but this is how things got structured in my head, so here we are.)

Said training is finished just in time, fortunately enough, for the murderous vigilantes' return to town. From here there be spoilers, so let's just leave it at, the third act is the best, bringing to fruition all the lingering questions of character raised in the films 1st 2 3rds. One leaves the film fulfilled, if not a little uneasily hopeful, which I suspect was Meed's intention. Real nice resolution, and just a fine tale all around, well-executed.

Barry Van Dyke ("Diagnosis Murder," "Airwolf," "Galactica 1980") carries the film on his reserved grizzled-ness, his performance that of a calmly tortured, conflicted anti-hero of the sort westerns are supposed to have. Sage Mears is equally sweet and sour, soft and rigid, believable as both a victim and an avenger, as a woman ripped from her cocoon of happiness and hardening to the ways of a new world she finds herself navigating alone. Here's hoping this is only the first of Ms. Mears' collaborations with The Asylum.

And I can't forget the always-great Greg Evigan (100 Million B.C., Journey to the Center of the Earth), who shows up in this one as the local peacekeeper, endearingly played as amiable yet stern, a man long in his position and perhaps too comfortable as such, performing his duties with relaxed aplomb and a false sense of security.

Other standouts include, of course, screenwriter Meed as the mirthfully ruthless vigilante leader Lee Horn, a grade-A sociopath, Jude Gerard Prest (Mega Piranha) as the bartender/ whoremaster, and Shane Van Dyke (Barry's son, writer/director/star of Titanic II and the director of this here fine film as well) as a member of the vigilante pack. 6 Guns marks the third film Mr. Van Dyke the younger has directed for The Asylum, and the first time he's directed his father. The look of the film isn't typical of The Asylum, it feels a little cleaner, a little more cable-ready, a little more accessible. There's been a boom in direct-to-DVD westerns in the last three or four years, and this film feels like a wading-job by The Asylum, a test to see how warm the waters are. And like wading in murky water, it's tense fun. The script is tight, true to western themes, and cognizant of the cruelty and brutality that typified this often-glamorized era of American history. There are a few stereotypes present, but each is performed beyond that level by a confident and capable cast. The end result is a fine film, tense and thrilling, engaging and unnerving in parts, in short a quality western, roped together and hog-tied by Shane Van Dyke, who, along with his work on Titanic II has proven himself - if ever there were any doubters - as more than just a legacy; the guy's got genuine talent. Looking forward to a lot more from him, on both sides of the camera.

This one gets high marks all around. I'd love to see more films in this vein.

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