Starring: Trace Adkins, Brendan Penny, Ron Perlman
Director: Thomas Makowski
Mood: If you’re really mad at yourself and want to self-punish with a bad Western that’s not even bad enough to be a real punishment so you fail at punishing which is itself the true punishment.
I like Trace Adkins. I need to make that super clear before I go any further with this review of The Virginian.
Sure, in my review for Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story I said he shouldn’t be a lead. But my hatred of Hickok was directed at the other Hemsworth, not at Adkins. And in my review of Old Henry I praised him… for a role in which he was mostly silent.
I actually enjoy Adkins as a personality. He’s got an astoundingly deep speaking voice that’s on a level with Sam Elliott’s, he’s naturally funny in interviews, he has gorgeous hair, and he seems to genuinely enjoy himself in Westerns.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I have one thing to say to everyone involved with The Virginian: Just because you CAN Make a Western, doesn’t mean you should. Walmart doesn’t need any more contributions to the $5 DVD bin. Just stop.
This review contains spoilers, but let’s be real, calling them “spoilers” is a stretch since it would be hard to ruin such a boring movie.
This remake of The Virginian opens with a lot of sepia tone and slow motion. I think they were going for that dramatic effect used in the opening credits of popular TV shows where they slow down choice pieces of action (like Deadwood), but the moment it ends and the dullness of the rest of the movie kicks in, you realize those opening credits were just lipstick on a pig.
The Virginian (Trace Adkins) is not from Virginia, nor does the movie take place there. He’s employed as an enforcer, punishing cattle rustlers for Judge Henry (Ron Perlman). Henry took in The Virginian as a young orphan and raised him by some kind of Old West code that is only ever applied to cattle rustlers. There’s a young boy who seems to also be an orphan being raised by Judge Henry.
But a writer named Owen Walton (Brendan Penny) comes to town and in his first scene right after the opening credits, he protests a man being strung up by another enforcer for cattle rustling without a fair trial. Despite the fact that this is his job and he doesn’t know Walton, The Virginian orders the other enforcer to let the man go.
Then a school teacher named Molly (Victoria Pratt) arrives in town, and she’s really pretty and the only other women in town are apparently whores and old ladies so The Virginian is immediately in love with her.
Now he’s questioning the code. But because he changed sides literally right as the movie started, it doesn’t feel like a conflict. It actually makes it more confusing when he continues to do his work.
Oh, and there’s a rustler named Trampas who is supposed to be a bad guy but his character is never shown as more than a lackey so he doesn’t do anything for the plot. And he does this reveal as he’s dying that Judge Henry was the real villain the whole time, but NOBODY was surprised because we’re so used to the rich white villain trope that if you didn’t know Judge Henry was the villian, this must be your first time watching a movie.
Trace Adkins is the only good thing in The Virginian, so right there you know we have a problem.
Adkins seems like exactly who you’d want in the role of a laconic Old West enforcer, because he’s got that huge, hulking frame and deep voice, and he’s good at looking intimidating. But the script is so thin that you can’t tell if Adkins has limited range or just had nowhere to go. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.
Ron Perlman gives you nothing. Like, nothing at all. I don’t remember anything about his character except being disappointed every time he was in a scene. This is the guy who gave us Hellboy, you’d think he could do a lot with this role. It’s like he knew this movie was going straight to DVD and did the bare minimum to earn his paycheque.
Victoria Pratt might be capable of more with a better script, or not. She’s made two more Westerns since this movie came out, both with Trace Adkins. I’ll just leave it at that.
John Novak is actually good as the drunk degenerate friend of The Virginian, but the character seems awkwardly tacked onto the script in the same way as the other orphan, Danny, to add an emotional element that just flops.
The worst part about The Virginian is that it’s not even truly awful. It’s just really dull, in every category. Every aspect of this movie, except a few of Adkins’ scenes, is one big collective act of phoning it in.
The plot is vapid. The script is flat. The scenery has that “we tried to make a Western in Canada” vibe. Not one of the lush parts of Alberta that can sometimes pass for the Old West, either. And the lack of a great conflict and engaging villain is the nail in the coffin.
Don’t watch this movie. If you’ve made it this far in my review, you’ve already invested more time than The Virginian remake is worth. Go watch Adkins in Old Henry instead.