Director David Von Ancken's debut, a Western action movie, is essentially a chase picture. If "The Most Dangerous Game" doesn't mean anything to you, think "Rambo" minus the Cold War, plus the Civil War, with an even bigger knife.
The knife is Gideon's (Pierce Brosnan), a former Union Army captain fleeing memories of wartime bloodshed. Like an Injun jumping off a horse, the movie opens at a full run. Gideon has no more than stood up from his campfire than he is shot in the arm by a sniper commanded by Colonel Carver (Liam Neeson), leading a posse in pursuit. Carver isn't saying why he wants his man, but he wants him alive, and as we soon see is willing to chase him across vast swaths of Old West real estate to nab him.
The first two-thirds of the tale are enjoyable, if not entirely original, action sequences. Chase scenes are punctuated by desperate wilderness survival episodes and moments of cat-and-mouse suspense, with the cat and mouse frequently reversing roles. A particularly well-constructed scene has Gideon and Carver ducking each other at a shady railroad construction site and shows how the background of a plain action movie can add depth without slowing things down.
Unfortunately the opposite effect is right down the pike, when the movie falls prey to an impulse common across all moviemaking to reach for a grand moral summation on which to hang its holster.
Hence, we sit through the origins and resolution of the strife, which involves of all things Anjelica Huston as a desert temptress, possibly Satan herself. Shades of "The Naked Spur" and "Greed" flit across the screen, but uncomfortably. Note to writers and directors who have similar grand ideas: It would be just as well, if not better, if we never learned why these two want to kill each other, but simply watched them struggle on to the end, into the sunset. (R) S