''The Quick and the Dead''

MOVIE REVIEW: ''The Quick and the Dead''
Cast: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Conway, Lance Henriksen, Pat Hingle, Woody Strode, Gary Sinise
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Simon Moore
Music: Alan Silvestri
MPAA rating: R (violence, language)
Mal's rating: 2 and a half stars

Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications Inc.

If you laugh, you will find ''The Quick and the Dead'' a likable hoot -- a raucous and steadfastly deadpan spoof of spaghetti Westerns, with a touch of Sharon sauce added.

If you don't laugh, you'll undoubtedly see it as one of the dumbest Westerns ever made. In any case, there is a lot more of Sergio Leone here than there is John Ford.

Sam Raimi, the young director who scored with comedic touches in B-budget horror flicks like ''Darkman'' and ''The Evil Dead,'' has just the right touch of exaggerated mischief in ''The Quick and the Dead.'' He's not doing ''Cat Ballou'' here. He has Sharon Stone playing Clint Eastwood, and that, in itself, should be a clue that something is awry. Raimi, though, steadfastly denies that his film is a spoof. Who's he kidding? Or, at least, we hope he's kidding.

Sharon Stone, the last blond sex symbol left in Hollywood, comes riding into the dusty town of Redemption with a six-gun strapped to her hip. No cow ever wore leather this tight.

With a lean and mean look on her face, she's out to get revenge on the man who killed her Pa (Gary Sinise, an Oscar nominee for ''Forrest Gump,'' in a cameo flashback). The man, who lives in a dark mansion on the hill, is Herod, the town's undisputed head meanie, played by two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman.

''You're pretty,'' one local Gabby Hayes-type snarls at Sharon.

''You're not,'' she replies in deadpan style.

When a poker dealer invites her to join in his game, she retorts, with equal deadpan, ''You're doing all right playing with yourself.''

I'll have to admit I laughed often as this thing unreeled. Stone may not be in the same league with Meryl Streep, but she clearly knows how to laugh at her own image. Even in a terrible flick like ''The Specialist,'' she managed to send us signals that she knew better and was just slumming. She sends more than a few signals here.

Stone shows remarkable restraint, for her, by not taking a turn as a saloon singer or some other variation of low-cleavage pioneer woman. There is a man in her life, Russell Crowe, the darkly handsome Australian star who is making his American film debut. But he spends most of the picture chained to a fountain.

Stone, of course, could just sashay over and shoot Hackman, but that would be a short movie. Instead there is a patently ridiculous ''plot'' in which the town hosts a shoot-out that draws the fastest gunfighters of the West. Everyone snickers when Stone enters the contest, but we know better.

Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the fastest rising young actors in film, has a cocky stance as the Kid, the fast draw who is the illegitimate son of Herod.

Hackman does a rather humorous variation of his evil Westerner in ''The Unforgiven.'' The supporting cast is a delightful group of familiar Western regulars, including leather-faced Lance Henriksen as a gunslinger, Pat Hingle as the town bartender, Kevin Conway as owner of the local brothel and even the late Woody Strode.