Review: Once Upon a Time in Deadwood

Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Rene Perez
Writer: Rene Perez, Jeff Miller
Composer: N/A
Starring: Robert Bronzi, Michael Paré, Karin Brauns, Lauren Compton 

The internet’s favorite movie star impersonator Robert Bronzi is back with his third film to date! Following his last film Death Kiss going viral and spreading the good word of Charles Bronson action schlock, Bronzi’s newest film takes his screen presence to the old west! 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Gun fights, a character is hung to death, blood is depicted.

Language/Crude Humor: Significant language throughout.

Sexual Content: A character is threatened with sexual violence; a woman is seen partially naked.

Other Negative Content: Themes of violence, sexual violence and vengeance.

Positive Content: Themes of justice.

Review

Disclaimer: This author received a screener copy of the film and has corresponded with the lead star Robert Bronzi via email/twitter. 

I fear I might not be able to give the most objective review of Robert Bronzi’s newest film Once Upon a Time in Deadwood. Like all extremely low budget film productions, it suffers from many of the same shortfalls that plague any no-budget film: cheap cinematography, shallow screenwriting, and rushed sound effects editing. At the same time, however, I unabashedly enjoyed Once Upon a Time in Deadwood. The main reason for that is because of the immense coolness of its lead star Robert Bronzi. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be feeling far less charitable. Because of him, I want to throw this film at everyone I know and get them on #TeamBronzi.

I had the opportunity to interview him last month here at Geeks Under Grace and get to learn a lot about his background and recent filmography. He’s such a cool dude! I should say I’ve been a fan of his since before I talked to him. He’s an amazing Charles Bronson impersonator and he brings an awesome screen presence. I first saw him on screen in Death Kiss, a low budget action film homage to Charles Bronson’s Death Wish franchise which I felt was roughly on par with the later sequels (which I also love!). 

Once Upon a Time in Deadwood is more ambitious and I think it suffers a bit for that. The movie’s title is primarily a homage to Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West, additionally cribbing part of its title from HBO’s Deadwood. Considering its proximity to Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood it wouldn’t surprise me if tying into that was part of the calculation as well. The movie brags about this association, apparently going as far as to partially shoot the film on some of the same sets Leone’s was a half a century ago. Personally I wouldn’t consider that the best comparison. This movie has its foot way more in the Cannon films/grindhouse school of action production, making it very much a B-movie. 

There’s a lot I really like in Once Upon a Time in Deadwood. The production design is solid, the gunfighting is consistently fun, and the soundtrack is very well produced if somewhat generic. Naturally its lead performance by Robert Bronzi is the thing that will sell all of the tickets and his gunslinger-for-hire role is solid. He really does do a good job embodying the space such a character would need to. I wish his character had a more emotionally impactful backstory or stronger character arc but those are primarily script issues. 

I do have some major complaints. For one, the sound design is completely rushed. As a former freelance sound effects editor myself, most of this film sounds like it was given a single audio pass by the editor. The generic sound effects and gun noises are somewhat forgivable if clearly ripped from a sound effects library at times but the main problem is the rerecording mixing. Footsteps, gunshots, and every other noise are mixed at the same level so a character walking away in the distance has footstep sounds that make him sound like he’s ten feet away from you. This should have been mixed better. Death Kiss had the same problem. 

Secondly, while this is more of a personal preference, I would’ve preferred to see Once Upon a Time in Deadwood recut in black and white similar to how Logan and Mad Max Fury Road were post-converted. As I’ve discovered in my own misadventures in no-budget filmmaking, black and white cinematography goes a long way to covering up cheap production design. The cinemetography looks overexposed so the color looks consistently washed out throughout. Given how much contrast there is between the light and dark visuals, I think this would improve vastly in its visual capacity without color. 

Again though I am totally in the tank for Once Upon a Time in Deadwood. This is a western for fans of B-movies, Cannon films, Charles Bronson, and 1980s action schlock. It’s unpretentious, fun and joyous viewing for Charles Bronson fans. If you’re not in that audience you’ll probably look at it with the same bewilderment you’d get when friends leave you out of an inside joke. Robert Bronzi leads and holds the film together inspite of its flaws for me. To that end, if you’re not a fan of Charles Bronson or don’t even know who he is, I can’t imagine you’d have an easy time connecting to the movie. Know what you’re getting into and you may yet experience one of the best boughts of deja vu you’ll get this side of the film industry. 

Positives

+ Exciting Lead Performance by Robert Bronzi + Fun B-Movie Action

Negatives

- Cheap Looking Production Design/Cinematography - Some Poor Performances - Bad Sound Effects Editing

The Bottom Line

Once Upon a Time in Deadwood is fun for B-Movie fans and audiences yearning old school 80s action movies and westerns. For the right audience, this will scratch an itch many haven't felt in years!

 

6.8

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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