A Mysterious Stranger Drifts Through the Bland Western Tale That Is ‘Doc West’

[22 September 2010]

By Brent McKnight

Lionsgate has dumped a bunch of questionable westerns on the direct-to-video market lately, but I still maintained hopes for Doc West. Star and co-director Terence Hill is an old-school spaghetti western actor, and his Trinity movies kicked off a craze of Italian “comedy westerns” in the early ‘70s, and are a pretty good time. Doc West, however, is a feeble attempt to rebottle that thunder for a new generation.

Hill plays West, a wrinkle-faced drifter floating from town to town in the Southwest, playing cards. While sending some of his winnings to a boarding school in Boston, the post office is robbed and his money is stolen. He takes off after the bandits, but is distracted when he has to save a young boy from a poorly done CGI rattlesnake. Because he’s a good guy, West gives the kid a ride back to his home in the town of Holy Sands. 

Holy Sands is in the midst of a Hatfield/McCoy type of conflict. When West is accused of cheating at cards, which is a lie, Sheriff Basehart (Paul Sorvino) throws him in jail. The townsfolk begin to suspect that this mystery man is a doctor because of his penchant for magically solving their random ailments like dislocated shoulders, back pain, and vomiting. Little by little, West’s haunted past is revealed.

Doc West tries to be funny, but this primarily involves Hill walking through every scene like a man-child in a constant state of surprise. He honestly seems a little high most of the time. West is an enlightened 21st century man transported back in time, and he says pithy things like “Only women can right the wrongs of men,” and “Everyone has a hidden talent.” At one point a dog steals his plate of beans and runs off. The attempts at humor are cringe worthy, and the jokes are more awkward than funny.

For most of the movie the protagonist isn’t actually involved in the story. The conflict between the Mitchell and Baker families unfolds, but West just flits through the scenes completely separate from the action around him. He is never a part of the story. It’s like you’re talking to someone at a bar, but watching the people at the table behind your friend because what’s going on there is more interesting. 

Nothing in the story is dealt with in any depth, which springs from the fact that the original Italian version of Doc West is 180-minutes long, and this version barely half that. Three hours was trimmed down to 97-minutes, and it shows. It feels like they kept all of the plot points, but removed all accompanying character and story development. The story was brutalized in the editing process, and all that remains is the surface. Overall, the feel is reminiscent of A Gunfighter’s Pledge, a Luke Perry vehicle that originally appeared on the Hallmark Channel.

One personal disappointment in Doc West is the music. Guido and Maurizio De Angeles created some of the coolest scores ever for a bunch of ‘70s Italian crime dramas. They were funky and driving, and enhanced the onscreen action. Their best work ranks up there with Morricone for effectiveness and genre appropriateness. Sadly, that is not the case here. The ever-present music is nothing but a collection of wacky riffs on western themes, and merely grates.

There are no extras on the DVD. You can watch it with English subtitles, but the movie is already dubbed, so what’s the point? There are some trailers for other movies, but most of them were released some time ago, and are of little interest.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/131167-doc-west/