This is the story of The Regulators. No wait, this is the story of Billy the Kid. No this is the story of how Billy the Kid met Pat Garrett. Oh hell, it’s all of that and essentially a remake of “The Cowboys.” Rather than a small group of boys who avenge their mentor in a dramatic finale, this group of young men avenges their caretaker in the beginning and we’re stuck with them for the duration. And they do so in a very long and cheesy Western that jumps in and out of so many sub-plots that it becomes exhausting. Christopher Cain’s “Young Guns” is really only a film you’ll likely love if you were between 13 and 19 in 1988. It’s another attempt to tack the brat pack on to a movie genre, and it pretty much fails from the moment we’re introduced to various characters in a goofy opening credits sequence. Every character is essentially some kind of gimmicky contributor to the narrative, only delivering broad Western cliches.
There’s even Lou Diamond Phillips who pulls double duty as a Mexican and a Navajo mix whose weapon of choice is his pair of knives. Much like “The Cowboys,” the group of young men we meet in “Young Guns” are all uneducated, rough around the edges, and sloppy. They’re employed by John Tunstall, as played by Terence Stamp. He’s a stern and educated British man who takes the men in, makes them work for food and shelter, and also delights in teaching them how to write, read, and be gentlemen. Emilio Estevez is arguably the main character William Bonney, a roughneck young man who has an urge to prove he’s a great gun fighter. Tunstall is being hassled by the crooked sheriff Murphy, as played by Jack Palance, and his gang, for owning a competing ranch and is intent on bullying Tunstall in to closing his down.
When Tunstall is gunned down viciously, the young guns are deputized as a group of gun toting hunters named “The Regulators.” From there, they take it upon themselves to track down Murphy’s men and murder them, and make a final stand against Murphy. Meanwhile they all go on various goofy missions, from a ridiculous soul search that feature them tripping balls for almost twenty minutes, and Doc Scurlock, as played by Keifer Sutherland, who begins to fall for a young Asian girl who plays mistress to sheriff Murphy. Well–he doesn’t so much fall for her, as he does stalk her and chase her around whenever she’s near. It’s all so inadvertently comical, as most of the cast all pull in over the top performances, including Estevez and Sutherland, both of whom chew the scenery at every given opportunity.
Palance isn’t given much to do, while Stamp is mercifully taken out after establishing his silly character who dotes after his young charges. The sudden shift from ensemble Western to a basic biography of Billy the Kid is jarring and distracting, especially when you consider Estevez never quite lends the character much menace of complexity, even when the movie ends on the promise of further exploring the historical figure. Director Christopher Cain’s western is a messy, silly movie that, while an admitted eighties staple, has aged piss poorly.