The legendary Wild West gunslinger rides again in this unabashedly retrograde oater.
As Hollywood has more or less given up on conventional westerns as mass-audience magnets, diehard fans of the genre have come to rely on a steady stream — or, at the very least, a consistent trickle — of small-budget, independently produced oaters to satisfy their appetite for old-fashioned sagebrush sagas. “Hickok,” the latest example of its unabashedly retrograde subgenre (the shoot-’em-up variety), contains a few elements — earthy language, fleeting nudity — that might trouble those purists who still pine for westerns of a more innocent era. But less censorious aficionados likely will be willing to look past the rough edges and enjoy the simple pleasures provided by a respectfully sincere retelling of a familiar legend.
At the center of this particular story is James Butler Hickok, a.k.a. Wild Bill Hickok, the Old West icon who inspired numerous legends — and, later, countless movies and TV dramas — with his exploits as a lawman, gambler and freelance gunslinger before meeting his untimely end during an 1876 poker game in the Dakota Territory town of Deadwood. Michael Lanahan’s serviceable screenplay for “Hickok” is (loosely) based on historical events: Hickok really was marshal of Abilene, Kansas, for a period beginning in 1871. During his tenure, fellow living legend John Wesley Hardin actually did drop by for a while. And yes, a corrupt saloon owner did try to have Hickok killed before Hickok sent the varmint off to Boot Hill.