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Marshal law comes to Appaloosa 

GENRE: Old-school Western

THE PITCH: In 1882, two freelance marshals, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) bring law to the eponymous New Mexican town when evil rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons in full Uncle Scar mode) guns down a sheriff. A sprightly piano player (Renée Zellweger) complicates things considerably.

MONEY SHOTS: Early quick-draw scenes first from Bragg and then Virgil and Hitch. Virgil and Everett stare down Bragg's angry mob of gunsels at least twice. A hostage stand-off at a train trestle with a highly capable gunslinger (Lance Henriksen). An appropriately abrupt gun battle near the end.

BEST LINE: "Put your little contraptions away -- I'm gonna walk you to the jail and I don't want to spook the horses," Virgil tells some thugs he catches peeing in the saloon. Harris and Robert Knott's adaptation of Robert B. Parker's novel features some breezy banter between Virgil and Everett.

WORST LINE: "You hired him to be Virgil Cole," Everett tells a chicken-hearted town official (Timothy Spall) who objects to Virgil's methods. The adaptation also features some too-terse, too-portentous dialogue about what a man's gotta do.

BODY COUNT: About a dozen gun deaths, although the action scenes tend to be more loud than bloody -- the film doesn't seem to deserve its R rating. Virgil pistol-whips the teeth out of one henchman's mouth.

FLESH FACTOR: A spyglass captures a couple skinny-dipping in a distant river. Everett's favorite prostitute wears some revealing 19th-century undergarments.

FASHION STATEMENTS: Virgil and Everett frequently don all-black three-piece combinations that would be quite dapper at a martini and cigar bar. Everett has kind of a Daniel Plainview mustache going. Everyone wears spurs indoors -- doesn't the jingly sound drive them crazy?

MP3-TO-BE: In addition to co-writing, directing and starring in the film, Harris sings "You'll Never Leave My Heart" over the closing credits. His singing voice suggests a passable Johnny Cash imitation, but he should save it for wrap parties.

GENDER SUBTEXT: Appaloosa offers some of the strangest sexual politics offered by a genre film in years, with a borderline misogynistic view of female (dis)loyalty. This Western definitely subscribes to a "bros before ho's" policy.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The film's oddly cerebral, drawn-out final act suggests the elegiac vibe of last year's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, even though the rest of it is more of a horses-and-hats shoot-'em-up like 3:10 to Yuma. Harris, Mortensen, Irons and Henriksen seem to be having a grand ol' time trying to stare each other down, but Appaloosa's middling level of entertainment isn't likely to spur a new Western revival.

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