While riding his horse through the old, Michael Atherton (Michael Dudikoff) discovers a group of thuggish ranch hands attacking a prostitute named Wendy (Valerie Wildman). Because Michael is known as being the Shooter, he has no problem coolly gunning the men down and saving Wendy’s life. Unfortunately, for Michael, one of the dead men is the son of a fearsome rancher named Jerry Krants (William Smith) and Jerry has his own reasons for wanting Wendy dead. Michael may be the Shooter but Jerry Krants is William Smith so you automatically know that it is not a good idea to mess with him.
In the grand spaghetti western tradition, Krants has his men kidnap Michael, beat him up, and crucify him outside of town. The men leave Michael for dead but, after they’ve left, Wendy repays Michael’s kindness by untying him from the cross, nursing him back to health, and saving his life. (The same thing used to happen to Clint Eastwood, except he usually had to nurse himself back to health without anyone else’s help.) With everyone else believing him to be dead, Michael rides into town to get his violent revenge against Krants and his men. With all of the townspeople convinced that Michael has returned as a ghost, only the town’s power-hungry sheriff, Kyle Tapert (Randy Travis), understands what has actually happened. Tapert makes plans to use Michael’s return for his own advantage. While it wouldn’t look good for Tapert to openly murder all of his opponents, what if he killed them and then framed Michael? And then what if he made himself a hero by being the one to end Michael’s reign of terror?
Directed by Fred Olen Ray, The Shooter is a low-budget western that turned out to be far better than I was expecting. Ray is obviously a fan of the western genre and, with The Shooter, he’s made a respectful and, by his standards, restrained homage to the classic spaghetti westerns of old. He even shows some undeniable skill when it comes to building up the suspense before the climatic showdown. Ray indulges in every western cliché imaginable but he does so with the respect of a true fan.
With his less than grizzled screen presence, Michael Dudikoff is slightly miscast as a Clint Eastwood-style gunslinger but the rest of the cast is made up of genre veterans who give it their best. In particular, William Smith shows why he was one of the busiest “bad guys” working in the movies. To me, the most surprising part of the film was that the casting of Randy Travis as a villain actually worked. Fred Olen Ray made good use of Travis’s natural amiability, making Kyle into a villain who will give you friendly smile right before he opens fire. Also be sure to keep an eye out for Andrew Stevens, playing the man who records Michael’s story. It wouldn’t be a Fed Olen Ray movie without Andrew Stevens playing at least a small role.
Low-budget, undemanding, and made with obvious care, The Shooter is film that will be appreciated by western fans everywhere.