My wife has a pretty good rule for movies we’re watching for the first time. If the movie opens with logos solely from distribution and/or production companies we’ve never heard of, it’s more than likely a dud.
The latest evidence for her rule is “Dead For A Dollar,” a title I came upon recently. I was intrigued because of the cast — Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Rachel Brosnahan, and Benjamin Bratt — and it was written and directed by Walter Hill, who made both “48 Hrs” movies with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, as well as “Brewster’s Millions” and “Southern Comfort.” Those were all more than thirty years ago, and I haven’t cared for anything he’s done since, but his name caught my attention, so I thought we’d give it a shot.
“Dead For A Dollar” is not streaming for free on Netflix or any other platform, so I borrowed it on DVD from our public library. When I inserted the disc, the first thing we saw was the menu allowing us to Play Movie, Select Scene, and a couple of other options. That’s a bad sign. The DVDs of almost all contemporary movies come front-loaded with impossible-to-skip previews of other titles also available on disc. The lack thereof in a 2022 release raised a red flag.
I clicked Play Movie, and within ten seconds, Martha shook her head and said “Uh oh.” Sure enough, we’d never heard of the companies whose logos appeared. Still, we were willing to give “Dead For A Dollar” a chance.
It opens in a typical 1800s frontier town’s jail, where Max Borlund (Waltz) has shown up to see the imprisoned Joe Cribbens (Dafoe). The latter is finishing up a five-year stint behind bars and the former is a bounty hunter. Another red flag! Waltz has already played a bounty hunter to perfection in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” with a memorable scene outside a saloon in which he shoots the sheriff and then explains to the marshal that the dead man was actually a wanted criminal. I can’t embed the clip here, but go watch it for yourself.
Unfortunately, Hill’s screenplay is nowhere near as clever as Tarantino’s. In fact, it’s kinda lazy. There’s no explanation of why these two characters are meeting face-to-face, only a threat from each that if they ever meet on the outside, the other one will die. At this point, anyone who has ever seen a movie knows it will end with the two characters engaging in a gun fight. Yawn!
The rest of the plot involves Borlund being hired by Martin Kidd (Hamish Linklater) to go to Mexico and retrieve his wife (Brosnahan) from a man who has kidnapped her and demanded a big ransom. Borlund accepts, and is accompanied by US Army Sergeant Poe (Warren Burke). Along the way, they encounter Tiberio Vargas (Bratt), who owns the territory they’re in, backed up by a posse of armed men. Threats and counter-threats are made but no shots are fired and, gee, I wonder where this is heading.
Eventually, Borlund and Poe track down the kidnapper and kidnappee, only to learn that the circumstances are not as they seem. To make matters worse, none of these people speak as if they existed in the 19th century. Their language and attitudes are far too contemporary.
At this point, Martha and I agreed we’d seen enough. I almost never walk out of a movie in a theater, but when we’re watching dreck at home, we have no problem pressing the stop button, which is what we did about forty minutes into “Dead For A Dollar.” But even though I ejected the DVD long before the full runtime of one hour and forty-seven minutes, I’m pretty sure we could predict how every aspect of the plot plays out.
Whenever we do this, we’re disappointed. We don’t start watching movies hoping they’ll suck. We expect to be entertained and drawn in. On occasion, we find a diamond in the rough. Unfortunately, “Dead For A Dollar” is a whole lot of rough with nary a diamond in the vicinity. Now I understand why no major (or even minor) distributor wanted to attach its name to the film and release it to theaters. It’s so weak I doubt the projected images would even make it all the way to the screen.
The movie’s slug line is “Vengeance for the right price.” Well, we didn’t pay a dime to try it, yet I felt overcharged.