a critiQal film review Quigley Down Under (1990)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Arriving in Australia with nothing more than a saddle and his prized six-foot Sharps rifle, American sharpshooter Matthew Quigley (Selleck) thinks he's been hired to kill off wild dogs. But when he realizes, instead, that his mission is murder - to "eliminate" the Aborigines from the land of a wealthy cattle baron (Rickman) - Quigley refuses and quickly turns from hunter to hunted. Forced to wage a savage war against his former employer, Quigley proves that no one gets the best of a steely-eyed American gunfighter - no one, that is, except the mysterious beauty (San Giacomo) who rides by his side and captures his heart

Reviewed
786 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 55s)

When I first saw Quigley Down Under in the NetFlix® queue, I laughed, thinking it was along the lines of other films from big TV stars like Leonard Part 6 – basically, a throwaway film that does little more than capitalize on it’s star’s TV popularity. Of course, I passed it by and went on to what were (hopefully) better choices.

Since then, however, I’ve gotten more interested in seeing what Quigley Down Under had to offer. Sure, watching old “Magnum, P.I.” episodes helped, as Quigley Down Under star Tom Selleck is still able to provide an amount of entertainment in that show – despite the show’s now apparent cheesiness. But, it was Selleck’s role in another series of westerns (albeit ones that were made-for-TV) that really started me thinking about Quigley Down Under. After hearing all the praise he’s gotten over his portrayal of “Jesse Stone”, I started to wonder if Quigley Down Under might be more than just a cash-in on Selleck’s popularity. Would the film actually have something to offer, or was I just being fooled once again by Hollywood?

Selleck takes on the title role in Quigley Down Under with an inherent nonchalance, letting his actions speak for his character before he does. While his looks make him seem like he’s perfectly fit for the role, as does some of his dry-witted comments early on, his nonchalance translates to his action sequences as well, making for what looks to be a rather plodding hero.

Alan Rickman seems to be still working on the villainous character he would later become known for – which is especially surprising, since this film falls squarely between his big villainous roles in Die Hard (1988) and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Sure, he isn’t given a whole lot to work with – he’s rather boxed in by the story – but his character, Marston, should be a lot more of a villain viewers would love to hate than what Rickman delivers. Even his big climatic showdown with Selleck’s Quigley is a foregone conclusion right from the start, making him a villain that doesn’t seem to be worth fearing at all.

Laura San Giacomo (of “Just Shoot Me” (TV)) plays a slightly mad American woman – nicknamed “Crazy Cora” – trapped in the Australian outback, and she quickly connects with Selleck’s Quigley, and her insistence on calling him “Roy” is a rather lame running joke throughout the film. While she’s been able to play solid characters before, her character is only brushed with depth – a depth that’s ruined when her dialogue turns from playfully entertaining crazy to “time to fill in the back story” narration, mostly devoid of emotion. Sadly, the film emphasizes this awkward moment, milking the unemotional retelling of her tragic past, and lingering on the following awkward silence until long after the viewer wants to look away.

The storyline seems to have a good basis – an American hero coming to Australia and ending up becoming a kin to the Aboriginees of the land (sort of a big screen apology to the similarly mistreated Native Americans were in America). Unfortunately, while the film does manage to capture a bit of the mystique of the much different customs of the Australian Aboriginees, it manages to miss almost all it’s other cues, creating a rather bland paint-by-numbers Western.

Whether the film is completely failing to evoke emotion with a dry retelling of Crazy Cora’s past or the easy-to-guess ending of the inevitable face-off between Quigley and Marston (viewers may even be able to guess what Quigley’s going to say at the end before he utters it), Quigley Down Under looks to be trying to shoot down any other attempt to revive this rather dull film. It doesn’t manage to nix them all – the unknown conclusion of “Crazy” Cora’s gunfight with rabid dingoes leads to the only true tension the film ever manages to generate – but even that can’t save this plodding movie from disappointing viewers.

At first glance, Quigley Down Under actually seems to have a lot going for it: a Western created back in the days when nobody other than Eastwood was creating them; a famous star who seems a perfect fit for the role of Western hero; a female love interest seemingly around for more than just eye candy; Rickman as another nefarious villain; and all of it set in the the breath-taking wilds of Australia. Sadly, however, Quigley Down Under fails at almost every turn.

Sadly, the only thing Quigley Down Under does have going for it is that it’s not bad enough to be memorable, so this cookie-cutter Western should fade quickly from the viewer’s mind once the film finally comes to a close.

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