Butch. vs. Sundance (2023)

Rating: C+

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: Ross Jirgl, Jilon VanOver, Jeffrey Combs, Randall Yarbrough

I’ve read this was shot back-to-back with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, and it takes a slightly different route to reach the same grade. The performances aren’t as good. While Combs is his usual, highly reliable self, Bruce Dern’s appearance is not much more than a token gesture, and Dee Wallace is entirely missing, her character having been killed off between the two movies. The lack of experience shows, with neither Jirgl nor VanOver able to fill the gap adequately. However, I think the script was better, managing to include a good number of twists and turns, while always remaining clear and coherent. Could have used some fact-checking though. We’ll get to that.

It begins with Butch (Jirgl) and Sundance (VanOver) robbing a train. Instead of the hoped-for diamonds, there is instead a paper giving information on a secret federal gold mine. Sundance is thoroughly unimpressed and storms off, leaving Butch to put together a heist himself. Sundance gets captured by dogged Pinkerton detective Charles Siringo (Combs) and his sidekick, Chas Schumacher (Yarbrough), and offers to give them information about Butch’s upcoming robbery, in exchange for an amnesty. Though Siringo doesn’t exactly trust Sundance, the chance to capture his long-time nemesis, who embarrassed him in the first movie, is just too good to pass up. However, things are entirely above board on the side of law and order, with Schumacher seeking to take advantage of the situation for his own gain.

The film bounces around geographically, captions telling us we are in just about every state from Oregon to New Mexico. Which is a bit awkward, because New Mexico didn’t exist as a state until 1912, four years after Butch was gunned down in Bolivia. [They all look the same here anyway: I suspect the entire production was filmed in one location] We’re also informed each gold bar is worth $100,000. The price of gold at the time was maybe $20 per troy oz. Doing the math, that’d make each gold bar weigh north of 340 lbs. Yet a key plot point has a bar being slipped into someone’s pocket. It’s the kind of sloppiness that I find hard to overlook, because a limited budget isn’t an excuse.

Fortunately, at a macro level, things work better. I can’t say the way things eventually work out came as much of a surprise. However, it is all rather satisfying, as we see in hindsight exactly what was going on. Everyone plays their part – wittingly or not – and gets their just deserts, more or less. It all feels about sixty years old in style and content. Although the criminals are the heroes, this doesn’t have any kind of harsh or cruel edge to it like, say, the works of the two Sergios, Leone and Corbucci. I’m not certain Butch or Sundance shoot anyone over the course of proceedings. If they did, I’m sure they deserved it. Yet taken as a throwback, this was an entertaining enough way to pass a hundred minutes.