Tombstone ★★★

I never have thought of this as a pinnacle Wyatt Earp biopic, I think it's a little too bit of a fragment (1994's "Wyatt Earp" with Kevin Costner, on the other hand, was awfully overlong with skittish detours). Nonetheless, Kurt Russell eventually takes a commanding lead as the lawman who has left Dodge City for the titular Arizona town in lieu of some new prospects. Amongst the supporting cast, Val Kilmer is the stand-out as the exuberant and tuberculosis-afflicted Doc Holliday; the pale blond actor has a grand ol' time chewing the scenery. Tombstone, for all its macho clashing, is a rather square western at heart so the eccentricity that Kilmer brings is a godsend.

Also here to put on a muscular good show are Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton as part of the Earp family, with Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Billy Bob Thornton as enemies. Earp is married to an opium-head, but is tempted by a stage actress played by Dana Delany; the romance is rather delicious as Russell slowly softens his "oak" to let this woman tease and delight him. The centerpiece gunfight is A-OK, and some of the action montages of the Earp squad hunting down bad guys has a rockin' power-tripping to it. Kilmer also looks the coolest when he's the one brandishing a shotgun... or a shot glass.

Directed by George P. Cosmatos ("Rambo: First Blood Part II") with cinematography by William A. Fraker ("Bullitt," "Honeymoon in Vegas") who occasionally creates some potent images of sunsets, men in dark shading, and exterior shots of wailing survivors under hard rain.

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