The Legend of Butch and Sundance (Lionsgate; $26.98)

(Lionsgate; $26.98)
(Lionsgate; $26.98)

A lesser known truth about filmmaking is that very few assistant directors ever step from the second tier into the director’s chair,  though many of the more ambitious ones move into TV work, which is what happened with The Legend of Butch and Sundance.

Sergio Mimica-Gezzan served as Steven Spielberg’s right-hand man on nearly a dozen pictures, but he has only directed TV and, in the case of Butch & Sundance, a pilot that was never picked up as a series.

What emerged was a clean, handsome, unremarkable picture that cherry-picked much of what we already knew about the outlaws, broadened their origins, sprinkled in a few facts and a great deal of fiction, added the requisite twinkle and amped the love triangle with Etta Place (Rachelle Lefevre) that the original 1969 George Roy Hill movie was clever enough to move beyond.

In fact, this 2004 telefilm essentially dumbs down most of what made the original picture so good. Butch and Sundance (David Rogers and Ryan Browning, respectively) are now politically correct adversaries of the railroads and the Pinkertons, who we learn are a “handful of evil men, choking the life out of the West.” The two dashing shootists go so far as to declare their desire to “rob from the rich and give to the poor.” That line and the one we hear when they hand out money to the terrified bank customers, “it’s for public relations,” are deal killers in my book of Western dialogue. Sad that the scripter, John Fasano, was one of the writers who worked on 1993’s Tombstone.

All this pilot does is show off hunky, fast-draw, bad boys who break the law and have fun doing it, and the spunky, red-headed, modern-minded lass who keeps them both at arms length (though whether from her or each other is a matter of speculation).

I don’t suppose this family-friendly  picture would offend anyone who wants to see a return of a Kenny Rogers-type Oater, but true buffs who want an adult and ambitious Western had best look elsewhere.

What do you think?