South of Heaven, West of Hell (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Dwight Yoakam is purportedly a huge country star, and is an accomplished performer in the music field. Unfortunately, he directed this 139 minute Western epic, which takes place in the Tucson territory in the early 1900's. The film had huge fan support even before the screenplay was finished, and you can see each cast member announcement on the unofficial site. There is also an official site loaded with glitz and flash. It is the story of Valentine Casey (Yoakam) as a former Cuban war hero who was raised by an outlaw family, but came back from the War (and death) to become a marshal. Naturally, his old "family" robs his town, and he must spend 139 minutes exacting revenge, with isn't easy considering that nobody hits more than 1 in 10 things they shoot at.

Proponents praise the gritty realism, but I can't imagine three people in old Tucson who died and came back to life, all suffering from olfactory amnesia, much less having all three end up in the same dining room. I also wonder about Yoakam's sidekick who wore a dress because a dress saved him from Indians when he was younger.

Scoopy's comments in white:

Well, here's one to challenge the standard for oddest casting in a Western. I now have a third nominee for my quest to find the rootinest tootinest buckaroo this side of the Rio Grande. Our previous nominees were Mr Spock in Catlow and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Quick and the Dead. Joining them in the ornery sidewinding competition will be Pee Wee Herman in South of Heaven. Ol' Pee Wee was one gunslingin' hombre, all right.

A scene from the movie, or just a really lively episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse?

Just curious. How is Pee-Wee going to get his gun out of that holster?

I think that Tuna and the scores from Apollo and IMDb members probably underrate the film, undoubtedly because they just didn't like it. I don't blame them. I didn't much care for it, either, but I have to say that revisionist Westerns are not my favorite genre. The old fashioned Westerns have a certain romance to them, a mythic proportion that, while false, is nonetheless rhapsodic, like the tales of swashbucklers or Robin Hood. The men live with their noble code, shoot straight, love honest, and talk only when necessary. 


We see maybe a nipple peak from Natalie Canerday. daughter of the family, who has a crush on Yoakam, and extended breasts and buns from Marta Santamaria, as a Mexican prostitute. Note that this ID was by process of elimination, but I am 99% sure. 
On the other hand, these revisionist tales want us to know that the Ol' West wasn't really like that. It was filled with dishonest, cruel, drunken, illiterate rednecks who had faulty weapons, venereal disease, and poor dental care. OK, I know that, but I think that a movie which reminds us of those points has to do more than simply remind us. It has to have an additional raison d'etre. It has to tell a good yarn, or teach us something, or stir us, or provide good action. This film doesn't really do any of those things.  

It's really just 139 minutes of meandering, to shows us that the real old west was meandering. It's 139 slow minutes of boredom, to show us the Ol' West was boring. It's 139 minutes of ill-bred redneck behavior, drunken mumbling, religious mumbo-jumbo, and raving lunatics, to show us that the characters in the Ol' West were the lost of the earth, not unlike the homeless population of today's big cities. The whole purpose of the film is, more or less, to debunk the romance of the Ol' West. OK, consider it debunked. I now know that only two things happened in the Ol' West - mindless unjustified cruelty and pointless talk, both punctuated by excess liquor. I also know that there were no likeable people, and the violence was probably just there to kill the boredom. And that was in the 139 minute version. Rumor has it that the original version was longer than three hours. That would have meant a lot more boredom, and therefore a lot more violence to kill the boredom.

Having said all that, let me say that I watched the entire film through in one sitting, and didn't really get that bored. It certainly still has plenty of scenes that could have been trimmed or deleted. It could have been cut another 20 minutes without losing anything at all. I don't know why Billy Bob Thornton's character is in the movie, or that addle-brained deputy in the first scene. But I also found it fascinating. The cinematography creates a feel of isolated communities in the midst of great open spaces, completely vulnerable to the large, roving outlaw gangs that may wander through. The score evokes a sense of sadness and loss. If it isn't a good movie, it does manage to accomplish some of what it set out to do, and promises that Dwight Yoakam might do something worthwhile if he'd concentrate on fewer jobs in the production.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  •  The DVD is full of extras, but the transfer is grainy and dark. behind the scenes, production commentary, deleted scenes, etc.

You see, it was a one-man vanity project for Yoakam. He wrote the story upon which it is based. He adapted the story to a screenplay. He directed. He starred in it. He wrote the original musical score. He made sandwiches during the breaks.

Very strange film. The scores at Apollo tell you a lot about it. The average member score is 1. That's a perfect score, because their system doesn't have a zero. Even more impressive, it's not 1 out of 4, or 1 out of 10, but 1 out of 100! That tells you it is not a mainstream crowd-pleasing kind of film. On the other hand, the Apollo reviewer scored it 72/100! That probably tells you it has a certain appeal to a certain audience, and is not the complete piece of trash indicated by the other ratings. In fact, several IMDb comments praise it.

Let's face it, whether it has its supporters or not, it isn't for everyone.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: One of the worst. IMDb voters score it 3.3/10, Apollo users score it a perfect 1/100 
  • With their dollars ... it had a brief trial in 9 theaters in June. It took in a paltry $15,000, and that was the name of that tune.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D+ (Tuna). Scoopy says: that may be the right score, or maybe as high as a C-. I don't know. Maybe as low as an E. Even with all the deletions, the pace is still too slow. Furthermore, the narrative is choppy and often incomprehensible, so I see why people hate it. I hate it too, but I am still impressed by stretches of it and elements of it.

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