Movie Review: Justin Lee strikes again, “Apache Junction”

So here we are again, Moriarty. Or shall I call you writer-director Justin Lee?

You’re the prolific filmmaker with no less than nine writing and directing credits produced, filmed and unleashed since 2018. I’m the sucker who keeps reviewing cut-rate Westerns like “Badland” and “A Reckoning,” or even more generic thrillers like “Big Legend.”

I had vowed to leave you to your Uwe Boll II business lest it seem I’m on some personal vendetta against a guy who, let’s face it, should be traveling the country, doing seminars at film schools.

Because Justin Lee gets movies made. Legions of talented filmmakers struggle and scrape by and dream and network and get nowhere in Hollywood or New York. Lee lines up “Dr. Drew” Pinsky and wrestler Randy Couture, Lance Henriksen or Oscar winners Mira Sorvino and Wes Studi, James Russo and Bruce Dern and, in his latest, Thomas Jane and Lee’s mascot, Trace Adkins, and cranks out another movie.

Film students far and wide would pay to have him teach a master class on how he manages it.

The movies are, to a one, crap. Lee has no flare for storytelling for the screen — writing, or directing. And Trace Adkins is to acting what Norm MacDonald was to country music. And just as animated, in Norm’s current state.

Apache Junction” is another static, artless and pokey Western with an aimless, scattershot script, a few horses, a little gunplay and nothing that does any credit to the acting profession. At all.

Scout Taylor-Thompson plays a pretty reporter from the San Francisco Examiner come to the middle of nowhere, Arizona, to write about the lawless “sanctuary” Apache Junction, basically a free fire zone that is the Russian-financed NRA’s wet dream for America.

She is protected, after a fashion, by the gunslinger Jericho (Stuart Townsend), the Native American Wasco (Ricky Lee) and the pipe-puffing saloon owner, Al Longfellow (Jane). But Miss Annabelle Angel (Jesus H, where does he find these names?) is no dainty thing, “lady” or not. She doesn’t ride side-saddle and it being 1881, she totes a gun.

That’s handy because the Junction has bad hombres — the murderous card cheat Oslo Pike (Ed Morrone), assorted cutthroats, and the rapey Blue Bellies, U.S. Army troops meant to keep order and deliver justice, but led by cynical, drawling do-nothing Capt. Hensley (Adkins).

Why would you name a character Oslo and not suggest, “Hey, he’s a Norwegian immigrant, like everybody John Qualen (“The Searchers,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) played in John Ford’s Westerns?” I mean, get him to do an accent. SOMEthing.

The Sante Fe locations are properly sage-brushed and weathered. But the wardrobe department ensures that every character in this looks freshly dry-cleaned, as was the fashion of the day, I guess.

Scene after scene opens slowly, staggers to a pause, and dies in its tracks.

The dialogue is recycled saddle slang — “He’s jus’spent too much time in the sand and snakes to know how t’treat a respectable woman.”

The acting is colorless, with even the grizzled veteran Jane failing to wring anything out of a moment or scene. Well, when Miss Angel asks “You’re who this establishment belongs?” he chuckles and repeats the agrammatical line, as if daring his writer-director to do another take.

Was the entire feature cut from first takes? It looks it, and Clint would be proud, if not entertained. No one else will be either.

One thing you do when you’re stuck reviewing films by people who can get movies made but only make bad ones is look for signs of learning, polish and improvement from film to film. From Cheech & Chong to Adam Sandler and Tyler Perry, I’ve looked for “progress” in the work, even if I found most of it garbage.

But I’m not seeing that here. Seriously, Mr. Lee, get a mentor, study classic films SHOT BY SHOT, scene by scene. Sign up for online “Master Classes” on shot composition, screenplay basics and directing actors.

Better yet, become a producer and help filmmakers with talent get their better scripts cast, financed and filmed.

And there’s always that seminar idea. Because the world doesn’t need any more proof of Trace Adkins’ limitless limitations in front of the camera or yours behind it.

Rating: R, violence

Cast: Stuart Townsend, Scout Taylor-Thompson, Victoria Pratt, Lorena Sarria, Trace Adkins and Thomas Jane.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Justin Lee. A Saban Films release.

Running time:

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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