Take Sergio Leone’s widescreen spaghetti western fantasias and pour them in a blender, drop in the nihilism of Peckinpah, the genre crashing of Tarantino, and the off-kilter character beats of the brothers Cohen, blend on “high,” then dump the contents across the blasted landscape of a Kiwi desert, and you’ll have something akin to Good For Nothing. The directorial debut of Weta Digital’s Animation Manager, Mike Wallis, the film never manages to reach the stellar heights of its influences (that said, what movie could?), but, with its tale of a Man With No Name with erectile dysfunction, it certainly honors/subverts them with aplomb.
- Director: Mike Wallis
- Writer: Mike Wallis
- Starring: Cohen Holloway, Inge Rademeyer, Jon Pheloung
- Cinematography: Mathew Knight
Isabella Montgomery (Inge Rademeyer) is a very proper young woman from England who, after the death of her father, is sent to live the Old West with her uncle, a man who sends his two best ranch men to pick Isabella up at a way station. Things go south, however, when an unnamed outlaw (Cohen Holloway) murders the team of men and kidnaps Isabella and attempts to rape her; however, the outlaw is unable to perform sexually, which sends the pair across the Kiwi landscape to various shamans and medicine men as the outlaw tries to find a cure for his “broke dick.”
As the outlaw and Isabella traverse the gorgeous landscape, developing a crude kind of Stockholm Syndrome bond as they fight to end his struggle with erectile dysfunction, a posse of lawmen are hot on the duo’s trail, mistaking Isabella for the outlaw’s villainous whore partner and swearing to kill them both.
- New Zealand: Tagged as the first “Kiwi Western,” Good For Nothing’s decidedly foreign landscapes, like the Italian vistas of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, give the film’s “Wild West” a decidedly off-kilter and unique look (imagine For a Few Dollars More dropped in the middle of a Tolkien-ready landscape)—a fitting evocation of the oddball film’s sideways take on the genre, beautifully lensed by cinematographer Mathew Knight.
- Genre subversion: Like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, in which a series of archetypical genre characters were tossed into our “real world” environment, with chaos ensuing, Good For Nothing’s stock western characters are lost in a decidedly postmodern landscape, in which the film’s Man With No Name is not in search of money, justice or land, but simply a cure for his erectile dysfunction.
- Music: Written by John Psathas and performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the score is acoustic, bare-bones, and gritty, with such tossed-in sounds as a Middle Eastern dulcimer and South American guitar, all of which exemplifies the films post-modern, junk-drawer aesthetic.
- The rape scene: While it may seem hypocritical to be fine with anti-heroes who kill at the drop of a hat (from Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name to Kurt Russell’s Snake Plisskin), there’s something about a film’s protagonist being willing to rape a woman that crosses a line some film viewers simply won’t be willing to straddle. While the outlaw eventually seems to learn the error of his ways and forms a bond with Isabella, the initial scenes of his attempted assault may leave a bad taste in the mouths of viewers, one that won’t dissipate with tub of popcorn and cup of soda.
A rough-hewn love letter to such genre-bashing directors as Leone, Peckinpah, Tarantino, and the Cohens, Good for Nothing is a film that doesn’t enter the pantheon of those filmmakers’ works, but it certainly marks Wallis as a name to follow in the years to come. The violent journey of an outlaw with erectile dysfunction and the kidnapped woman who comes to tolerate him, Good for Nothing is likely to be, if not the finest, than surely the oddest Western you’ll see in ages.
Good for Nothing opens in select theaters on March 9, 2012.
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