Directed by Ed Harris

Written by Robert Knott and Ed Harris

Starring Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons



Does the world really need another bad western? Let's be frank: "Appaloosa" is a bad western, made from what has to be called an offhand novel by Robert B. Parker, who would do better sticking with his Spencer series in Boston.

Ed Harris, who also directed, plays the lead in this story of two roving lawmen in the southwest of the 1880s, who end up in the little town of Appaloosa, Arizona. His friend and partner is played by Viggo Mortensen, and I'm not sure I've ever seen two more chiseled faces in one picture. They could cut a two by four just by holding it up to their chins. Their nemesis is played by Jeremy Irons - also a chiseled face - who is apparently a rancher, though we never see any cattle. The cliches come fast and furious: as the film opens, the previous sheriff comes to Irons' ranch and is promptly shot down by Irons. By a coincidence known only to screenwriters, that's just when Harris and Mortensen ride into town and are made sheriff and deputy by the cowardly townspeople.

Then along comes Renée Zellweger, a pianist of sorts, who quickly makes Harris her target du jour, but no sooner have we seen her attack the piano than she's after Mortensen as well.

In the meantime no one can pin the murder of the sheriff on Irons, until one of his hands comes in to say he saw the murder and will testify to it. Harris and Mortensen jail Irons - will the jail hold him until the judge comes through to hold the trial? Will his men find a way to release him? Don't hold your breath. This film is so choppily edited it's hard even to follow the simpleminded story, which for some reason includes an episode where Mortensen brings a horse to a band of Apaches, which evidently mollifies them so they don't keep attacking the whites.

The film was shot by the great cinematographer Dean Semler ("Dances with Wolves," "Apocalypto," "The Trojan War," "The Young Guns") in New Mexico, and looks terrific; it's only the plot that holds it back.