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The Quick And The Dead

Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Lance Henriksen, Russell Crowe, Gary Sinise, Leonardo DiCaprio

It's a tribute to the movie star charisma of Hackman and Stone that this convoluted, pretentious feminist western grabs and holds attention as well as it does, even though among the plausible alternate titles for it would be The Specialist West.

Chronically clueless director Sam Raimi (1990's Darkman), whose idea of wit is graphic violence and gore, squanders a lot of the best moments of Simon Moore's screenplay about a lone woman who enters a fast-gun tournament in a desolate Arizona town.

Stone is the woman, Hackman the town's villainous boss and Crowe and Henriksen two tournament competitors. DiCaprio is not only Hackman's supposed son but a would-be top gun and a darling of the town's ubiquitous gaggle of whores.

Predictably, Stone is not just a newcomer on the shoot-out circuit; she is on a mission. Also predictably, her mission is yet another cinematic exposition of that questionable phenomenon, repressed memory. This enables Raimi to indulge in lots of hazy flashbacks in which Sinise appears as Stone's father.

A more interesting subplot involves Crowe, Hackman's former henchman, who has been dragooned into the tournament even though he has found religion and forsworn violence.

But Raimi is obsessed with playing Sergio Leone, which leaves Stone trying to look steely and grim, Eastwood fashion, in countless close-ups (to the tune of a twangy guitar). She's so obviously working at it ("Now how would I look if I had just shot someone?") that she's fun to watch, and Hackman is intriguing, too, seemingly amused at the extent of his own evil.

Crowe, an Australian star, suggests more complexities than Moore or Raimi allow him. And DiCaprio -- frail, pale and often looking prettier than Stone -- may be positioned to become Hollywood's favorite leading boy, but as a hardened young killer he's about as threatening as Opie. It's especially risible to see DiCaprio hitting on Stone, who is nearly old enough to be his mother. Raimi, it would seem, lacked the clout or imagination to remedy the miscasting.

(R) Ralph Novak