Cinema: Horse Opera

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Well, why not? History tells us that some of the West's most formidable ( outlaws were little more than postadolescent punks. And the surveys tell us that some of our most potent box-office attractions, especially among the teens of summer, are postadolescent hunks. Can't blame a producer for thinking there might be fun and profit in having a group of the latter play a gang of the former.

Fun, no. Whatever hopes a gaffer might have that the likes of Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Lou Diamond Phillips (an actor who curiously combines sweetness and menace and may have the brightest future of them all) could reinvigorate the moribund western form are quickly blotted out by the cloud of ineptitude raised by Young Guns. Profit, yes. The fool thing took in more than $19 million in its first two weeks of release.

This is not too hard to explain, for on a certain level John Fusco's script is shrewdly calculated. The lads are employed as enforcers by an Englishman (Terence Stamp) who is almost Dickensian in the sentimental kindness he lavishes on lost boys. When he is gunned down in a range war, his wards get to play rebels with a cause, rubbing out authority figures hostile toward high- spirited youth.

Mostly, though, they run in circles, aimlessly looking for trouble, just like a modern urban gang. That is not, however, an apt analogy. The film is basically a drag, and not helped by Christopher Cain's stand-around direction. And one's thirst for the clear, cool taste of traditional narrative -- motivated movement, defined antagonists, building suspense -- soon reaches maddening levels. A grownup could die in this wasteland. - R.S.