I’m old enough to remember that, despite being a goofy vehicle for the Brat Pack, that “Young Guns” was pretty popular and warranted its own follow up. Now shedding the whole gimmick aside, Geoff Murphy spends his movie following Billy the Kid, as he attempts to hide from the law and make a deal with a new Marshall who swears to release him and let him off without being hanged. Of course he turns his back on the deal, prompting Billy to flee with his gang and his two old friends Chavez and Doc, both of whom are re-introduced as having been caught and imprisoned. “Young Guns II” avoids the goofy opening sequence in favor of a campy shot of a very old Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez in old man make up) who calls a lawyer to meet him in a neutral zone.
Billy wants to get off on the murders he committed to seek freedom, but the lawyer doesn’t believe the man he’s talking to is the actual Billy the Kid, since it’s been recorded in history that Billy died by being shot in the back by Pat Garrett. This is kind of a silly way to glorify the old West, but it’s expected when you have big stars like Estevez, Christian Slater, and Keifer Sutherland leading a film of this ilk. Even when the big stars did die, they died in a haze of glory. Geoff Murphy’s film is factual on occasion, as Billy was shot in the back by Garrett, and did manage to break out of his hand cuffs thanks to small hands and wrists, but those historical accuracies are few and far between. Much like “Young Guns,” the Murphy follow up is ten minutes too long and meanders from sub-plot to sub-plot, trying to build a lot of tension where there is none.
There’s an especially tiresome rivalry between new member Arkansas Rudabaugh, as played by Slater, and Chavez, which prompts the pair to engage in a pretty nifty knife fight. Doc and Chavez’s presences also feel awkwardly injected, and they don’t contribute too much to the dramatic tension. That said, most of the film’s entertainment value comes from spotting some future stars appear in minor roles. There’s William Peterson as friend turned foe Pat Garrett, Viggo Mortenson as Garrett’s merciless right hand man, and Balthazar Getty as a young admirer of Billy’s who wants to join his gang. There’s also Bradley Whitford as a lawyer in the prologue.
Christian Slater who is very good as Arskansas Rudabaugh, a hot headed member of Billy’s gang who delights in killing people and struggles to be considered as memorable as Billy. Along with the youngins, there are neat appearances from Scott Wilson, and James Coburn, both of whom lend the film some credibility. “Young Guns II” wades through the tedious plot, attempting to give Billy the persona of an anti-hero, while also visiting the facts of Billy’s actual life only when it’s convenient. It feels more like a spin off of “Young Guns” for Billy the Kid that they were contractually obligated to call a sequel. Billy and Estevez’s portrayal of Billy are just flat, which ends in a lackluster follow up that never once tries to up the ante in characters or narrative.