How many movies can we make about Billy the Kid? As long as there’s a new angle on the tale, the answer is: countless.
“The Kid” has the an appealing idea: What if an adolescent boy, slapped around by Old West fate, found himself in the company of the Kid during the outlaw’s final months?
This perspective belongs to Rio (newcomer Jake Schur), who escapes a toxic family situation in league with his older sister (Leila George). By chance, they happen upon sleepy-eyed William Bonney (Dane DeHaan), a cocky and unkempt fellow who has run afoul of law enforcement. People call him Billy the Kid.
Rio develops some serious hero worship around Billy — not exactly an accurate impression of the outlaw. The film notes that the truth doesn’t seem to matter much, just the stories that people tell. Which is how Billy the Kid became a legend.
If you’ve heard the story of Billy the Kid, or just the exaggerated versions of that story, you’ll recognize some of the events here. We see Billy’s suspenseful escape from a New Mexico prison, and his cat-and-mouse game with Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke), the lawman chasing him.
The new wrinkle is Rio’s viewpoint. He wants Billy’s help, because a deranged uncle (Lake Stevens’ Chris Pratt, almost unrecognizable beneath a questionable beard) is hounding Rio and his sister.
“The Kid” has a strong cast, and it boasts an unexpected director: Vincent D’Onofrio, whose career has mostly been spent in front of the camera (including the recent Western remake, “The Magnificent Seven,” where he co-starred with Hawke and Pratt).
A gifted actor himself, D’Onofrio has a tendency to seek out the more eccentric aspects of his characters, and he allows his cast to do the same here. Pratt has a few splendidly out-there moments, Hawke delivers his customary strong work (he’s that rare actor who actually looks like he could have sprung from the Old West), and this is the best performance given by the perpetually disheveled DeHaan (recently miscast in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”).
D’Onofrio appears briefly himself, and provides good roles for supporting actors, including Adam Baldwin and Ben Dickey, the songwriter-star of Hawke’s 2018 indie film, “Blaze.”
I wish “The Kid” added up to more, because the concept is promising, and D’Onofrio obviously has affection for the Western — he even introduces Billy in a re-creation of the only known photograph of the Kid. There are scenes here, like Pat Garrett puffing on a cigar by a grove of yellow trees, or a drunken conversation by flickering candlelight, that could fit into any classic Western.
The film has a cheap, rushed feel to it, a few cringey anachronisms and a smothering music score that doesn’t let you breathe. These things work against it, but if you like Westerns, check it out anyway. There’s still something to be said about the myth of Billy the Kid, and how it inevitably says something about us.
“The Kid” (2½ stars)
A new take on the Billy the Kid story, this time seen through the eyes of an adolescent runaway who crosses paths with the violent William Bonney (played here by Dane DeHaan). Vincent D’Onofrio directed this version, and while it has glaring shortcomings, it’s got a strong cast and a good feel for the Western. With Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt.
Rating: R, for violence, subject matter
Opening Friday: Alderwood Mall, Meridian and video on demand