[Written for Amazon.com]
If you’ve never heard of South of Heaven, West of Hell, there’s an excellent reason. If you have heard of it, it’s probably because you stumbled upon the information that it marks the directorial debut of singer-actor Dwight Yoakam, who managed to sweet-talk a spectacularly quirky cast into abetting the enterprise: current girlfriend Bridget Fonda and her papa Peter; indie-world luminaries Vince Vaughn and Billy Bob Thornton (for whom Yoakam made a memorably loathsome villain in Sling Blade); character-acting stalwarts Bo Hopkins, Matt Clark, Luke Askew, and Scott Wilson; and such icons of the florid fringe as Bud Cort, Paul Reubens, and Michael Jeter. All should file for workman’s comp and alienation of audience affection because they got themselves mired in one of the dumbest, most inept, most tediously self-indulgent messes in the history of showbiz hubris.
Yoakam stars (you guessed?) as a U.S. marshal whose tiny Arizona town is literally annihilated by a clan of outlaws from his past. He and they used to be family. Now he has to track them down, even as they go on making life hell on earth for anyone in their path. That includes a hapless government man (B. Cort) whom they’re keeping alive for sport, and a traveling lady (B. Fonda) who … well, who’s blonde and is mostly photographed in slow motion because she’s the director’s girlfriend (see above). It is beyond the scope of mortal man to describe how primitive are Yoakam’s notions of dramaturgy (mostly there is just shouting and hair), how any coherent grasp of time or geography eludes him, how little difference it makes whether these gargoyles start killing one another in any given scene. It’s just awful. And while we’re at it, offal.