Dead Man’s Hand, the latest film from Brian Skiba (The 2nd, Pursuit) who directed and co-wrote it with one of his actors, Corin Nemec (Run Hide Fight, Rottentail), opens with robbers attacking a stagecoach in a hail of CGI blood and bullets. They kill the driver and are talking about their plans for the women on board when Jean-Jacques Renau, or as his friends call him, Reno (Jack Kilmer, Detective Knight: Independence, Lords of Chaos), and his bride Vegas (Camille Collard, Lazzer Party, Wild Geese) open fire killing them all.
Since Reno “won’t leave a man to rot” Reno insists they bring the bodies to be buried in the next town they stop at. That turns out to be a bad idea as one of the bandits was the brother of Mayor Clarence Bishop (Stephen Dorff, Old Henry, Paradise City), and he doesn’t consider self-defense to be justification for killing one of his kinfolks.
Skiba dishes all of this out with competency if not a lot of excitement or originality. That may be due to the source material, a graphic novel by Kevin and Matthew Minor, No Rest for the Wicked: Dead Man’s Hand. But even if that was the case, Skiba and Nemec could have given it a dose of adrenaline as they were adapting it.
After a card game, that’s where the dead man’s hand comes in, Reno ends up with his trigger fingers cut off and left to die and Vegas is taken back to the saloon as a reward for Bishop’s men. That’s when the film finally deviates from the usual template, unfortunately, it’s not for the better. Early in the film Reno stops the stagecoach guard from shooting some passing Apaches. One of them, Mahto (Mo Brings Plenty, Yellowstone, Jurassic World Dominion) finds him and brings them to their Medicine Man who performs a ritual to revive him and reattach his fingers.
It’s all pretty hokey, complete with closeups of Reno’s sweaty face and visions of a red full moon, but it does set up a fairly action filled climax as Reno, Mahto, his wife, the Marshall and Abraham (Vincent E. McDaniel, Mojave Diamonds, Project Legion), a former slave whose ex master (Costas Mandylor, Death Count, Cosmic Sin) has no intentions of letting go, take on Bishop and his men.
The main problem with Dead Man’s Hand, apart from the slow start is a miscast lead, Kilmer is never convincing as a lethal gunman and card shark. He looks way too young, soft, and pretty, more like a fourteen-year-old mama’s boy than a seasoned killer.
The second problem is the ridiculous reactions various extras have during the action scenes. Some of them look like they’re recreating a death scene from a silent movie they exaggerate their motions so badly. Others grimace at the camera as they collapse. Throw in some obvious camera trickery and it hurts a lot of what should be the film’s best scenes.
Skiba gets just enough right that Dead Man’s Hand will probably get you by if you’re desperate for a Western. There’s a fair bit of action, even if the staging is problematical, so it isn’t actually boring, unlike too many recent horse operas. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get enough right to make it worth recommending either, this movie isn’t quite the equivalent of drawing a dead man’s hand, but it’s far from a royal flush.
Lionsgate has released Dead Man’s Hand to Digital and VOD Platforms. It will be available on DVD on August 22nd.