TNTs Trail Takes a Detour

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Tom Selleck, executive producer and star of Crossfire Trail-Turner Network Television's latest western opus-has obviously taken great pains to get the look just right.

The scenery is well photographed, with Calgary standing in for 1880 Wyoming. And at first, most of the characters are interesting, including the virtually unrecognizable Wilford Brimley as Joe, who allies with Selleck's Rafe Covington.

Publicity materials for the movie, based on a Louis L'Amour novel, make much of its unique blend as a western, mystery and love story. But Trail
takes some odd turns in its second half and doesn't quite live up to the hype.

The telefilm opens aboard a ship off the California coast, as a dying man, Charles Rodney, gets his friend Rafe to swear he'll look after his wife Ann and their Wyoming ranch.

But when he arrives some six weeks later to make good on his promise, Rafe is puzzled that the widow (Virginia Madsen) is convinced Rodney died a year earlier. It soon becomes apparent that the villain of the piece, Bruce Barkow (Mark Harmon), told her that tale in hopes of winning her and her oil-rich ranch.

Gradually Ann realizes that Rafe is the man of honor, not Barkow. The trouble is that there's little on-screen chemistry between Selleck and Madsen to support their budding romance.

The movie is something of a throwback to the westerns of yesteryear, with clear-cut heroes and villains. Rafe is the ultimate reticent hero, who waits 45 minutes into the movie to finally tell the suspicious widow that her husband had been shanghaied onto a San Francisco freighter.

Barkow, an equally slow mover who's been wooing the widow for a year, hires gunslinger Bo Dorn (Brad Johnson) to eliminate Rafe.

Once Dorn arrives as another western cliché, clad in black, Barkow changes drastically. When Ann balks at his sudden proposal, Barkow slaps her around, drags her to the saloon to have the sheriff wed them and then takes her upstairs to a room where he intends to rape her-until she passes out. The scene is reminiscent of a similar over-the-top moment in Kevin Costner's 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

The hitherto slow-moving Crossfire Trail
also changes jarringly as it rushes to a conclusion. Despite their solid credits, we have to blame Selleck, co-executive producer Michael Brandman (who worked with Selleck on TNT's Last Stand atSaber River), director Simon Wincer (Lonesome Dove) and screenwriter Charles Carner for that-and for several other odd moments that resemble scenes from old John Wayne westerns.

Toward the end, Rafe rides recklessly down the main street, as Barkow's many henchmen fire at him, hitting neither horse nor rider. As the shooting erupts, the town undertaker steps into a coffin and says, "The undertaker is in."

During the shootout, the sheriff gets drunk, tosses his badge and rides off.

And Dorn and Rafe's climactic gunfight at a hokey corral is a real letdown.

Crossfire Trail
will bow on TNT on Jan. 21 at 8 p.m.

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