(director/writer: Tony Tost; cinematographer: Nigel Bluck; editor: Peter McNulty; music: David Fleming; cast: Sydney Sweeney (Penny Jo), Paul Walter Hauser (Lefty Ledbetter), Simon Rex (Roy Lee Dean), Eric Dane (Dillon Macintosh), Halsey (Mandy Starr), Gavin Maddox Bergman (Cal), Zahn McClarnon (Ghost Eye), Joe Adler (Fun Dave), Derek Hinkey (Hank Spears), Harriet Sansom Harris (Tish), Megan Henley (Sarah), Toby Huss (Pendleton Duvall), Christopher Bruce Kriesa (Hiram Starr); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alex Saks; Saks Picture Company; 2023)
“This zany modern-day Western is on target.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Tony Tost in a fantastic directing debut comes up smelling the roses with a contemporary Western that might work fine as a sort of retro Western comedy, which should do well in either drive-ins or as a “midnight film.”
In a small town in South Dakota (with New Mexico subbing), an invaluable Native American artifact, a Ghost Shirt made from animal skin has been stolen from a private collector. It’s a sacred shirt of the Lakota nation, which were thought to protect the wearer against bullets through its special spiritual power.
The hybrid comedy heist film drama features the popular singer Halsey as Mandy Starr, in her first acting venture (where she delivers a terrific performance). Mandy’s depressed from a lifetime of abuse and lives in a double-wide with her moronic petty criminal boyfriend Dillon (Eric Dane) and her weird young son Cal (Gavin Maddox Bergman). The white kid is convinced he’s the reincarnation of Sitting Bull.
After the town’s dishonest antiquities dealer Roy Lee Dean (Simon Rex) hires Dillon to steal a valuable Lakota Ghost Shirt from a private collector that involves a bloody home invasion, Mandy decides to cut her deadbeat boyfriend out of the deal and resell the shirt herself. To break free from her lover, she knocks him cold by conking him on the head with a hammer and splits with the stolen shirt in his car. When Cal refuses to come with her, she leaves him behind.
The stuttering diner waitress in tow Penny Jo (Sydney Sweeney) meanwhile overhears that Roy Lee is selling the Ghost Shirt for a half-million dollars and figures that would finance her dreams of reaching country-singer heaven in Nashville. Thereby she recruits lovelorn restaurant regular Lefty Ledbetter (Paul Walter Hauser) to help her steal the stolen shirt from Mandy.
Cal then tells the local Native Americans, the chief Ghost Eye (Zahn McClarnon) and Hank Spears (Derek Hinkey), about his mom’s foul deed over the Ghost Shirt, and they go after his mom to recover their tribal treasure. They take Cal along so mom won’t resist them.
Mandy is on the run, heading for her father’s (Christopher Bruce Kriesa) Wyoming ranch, with Roy Lee in pursuit. The Native Americans are also in pursuit and are willing to kill her to get back the Ghost Shirt.
The troubled white folks, driven by greed or false hopes (like te waitress), are chasing after the shirt so they can get enough money to straighten out their messed-up lives.
This zany modern-day Western is on target. There’s possibilities of it becoming a cult favorite.
It played at the SXSW.
REVIEWED ON 4/23/2023 GRADE: B+