Much as there has been an unexpected endurance for many of the films that populated theaters during the first part of the nineteen-nineties, when I was holding down one half of a movie review program at my college radio station, there are a whole slew of releases that are, I suspect, barely though of at all any more. Maybe Quigley Down Under is in regular rotation in the wilds of some cable channel I barely know is there, but I doubt it. These days, probably the most notable thing about it is that it was basically Alan Rickman’s first attempt at duplicating the memorable villainy he brought to Hans Gruber in Die Hard. This wasn’t the close of the road of Hollywood’s eager attempt to make Tom Selleck into a big, bankable movie star, but the “Dead End” sign was coming into view. Take special note of me hedging with the quote that opens the review.
“They say God made Australia last, and he was tired of making everything the same…so he made it different…” These words, or something like them, are spoken early on in the new film QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, and, judging from the landscapes on display in this big screen western, the statement can definitely be called accurate. The environment the film is shot in is always interesting to look at and is one of the film’s true strengths, but there has to be a story going on there too, right? That comes courtesy of a long-distance sharpshooter named Matthew Quigley, played by Tom Selleck, who comes as close as he’s ever come to creating an appealing big screen hero. Selleck journeys to the Land Down Under looking to take a job with a rancher, until the employer in question, played splendidly by alan Rickman, turns out to be a bit too nasty. Selleck turns down the position and soon finds himself dumped in the Australian Outback with another transplanted American, a madwoman named Cora, played by Laura San Giacomo. The two have to find their way out of the wilds, while truing to protect the aborigines that Rickman is trying to exterminate. And, of course, it all leads to a final showdown with Selleck looking to make Rickman pay for his dirty deeds.
The film has a lot of things that work against it: several of the bad guys do things that are unbelievably stupid, a parallel between the treatments of the American Indian and the Australian Aborigine is glossed over a bit too quickly, and a misguided “Aborigine Great Spirit” subplot is a big part of what makes the last fifteen minutes of this picture almost completely worthless. Some redemption comes from director Simon Wincer, who previously hit pay dirt with LONESOME DOVE, the TV mini-series that made westerns watchable again. The film’s truest saving grace, though, comes from Laura San Giacomo. San Giacomo, who was so good in last year’s SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE and so wasted in this year’s PRETTY WOMAN, gives a terrific performance as “Crazy Cora.” She gives Cora a strangely appealing charm and lends enough honesty to the role to make a confession of the act that made Cora’s husband disown her one of the film’s best and most compelling scenes. These combined with Rickman’s deliciously nasty performance make QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER a film that succeeds in spite of itself.
2 and 1/2 stars, out of 4.