Prairie Fever

  • Directed by Stephen Bridgewater
  • March 29, 2008

An alcoholic former sheriff escorts three women suffering from prairie fever to Carson City.

For a direct to video film, Prairie Fever has a surprising level of quality. Not theatrical quality but a quality that rises above standard for direct to video. The acting and production values are better than one would expect with a script that is well written. And the direction is rather competent.

Kevin Sorbo is no great actor. How he shot to fame with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys I do not know. I am not calling the show or his acting bad, but neither was it anything to make somebody a star. Yet here we are. Having said all that, he’s not bad in this as Preston Biggs. Biggs is an emotionally wounded alcoholic ex-sheriff dealing with the trauma of having accidentally killed his wife when dealing with some bank robbers. He is a cynic but has a moral core that the world does not quite live up to.

Through much of the movie Preston is paired with Olivia Thibodeaux (Jamie Anne Allman) who is fleeing her own demons. They have good banter but unlike in the perception of the characters that banter never quite gets romantic. It only reaches very good friends. Nothing wrong with that. Not every pairing needs to be romantic.

How can you go wrong when casting Lance Henriksen as a villain or even just severe heavy like here? His voice alone genuinely carries the part, but he’s a good enough actor himself and makes his character of somewhat conning gambler Monte James dark but not more so than the part requires. After all he’s essentially a murderous con artist trying to reclaim his wife (girlfriend?) and not a Western bandit trying to run the territory or someone actually in charge of the local town. Making him too grand would not have fit.

Weirdly though, despite killing people and all that and possibly being abusive towards Olivia (they married when she was 15), Monte gets a bit of a rehab by the end of the movie. He lets her go despite previously threatening people with their lives and leaves as if he is a kindly yet tough rogue.

While Preston and Olivia escort these women whose minds have succumbed to various issues, they are pursued by a pair of brothers who look to rob them (Olivia stole money from Monte and they figured it out) as well as take back one of the wives to whom one brother was married. This touches on the issues the women are suffering from. As the story unfolds we learn the supposedly insane women are actually suffering from abuse and isolation of the prairie. Each is a victim of something.

The story of Prairie Fever is less about overcoming villains and more about each character reclaiming something or getting a sense of justice for a wrong. Biggs must find a reason to stop drinking and to live again rather than be held down by guilt over the death of his wife. The three women must get past their emotional wounds to be better. And Olivia must get away from Monte and step out on her own.

This is not some revisionist Western filled with terrible people but rather individuals dealing with hard lives. There is a mixture of hope and cynicism in the tone of the movie. It is not good versus evil but people versus mostly themselves with a sprinkling of action so it is not all yammering and weighty dialogue.

Maybe I missed something, but there is a bit of a plot issue here. It’s initially said that the husband of Abigail (Dominique Swain) simply abandoned her. And then it said that he died and she went crazy. It’s a minor thing, but I was actually paying attention to this movie so it bothers me.

Unlike many Westerns these days, it doesn’t look exceedingly cheap. The costuming is good and the environments are filled with plenty going on in the background. The script is good and the actors do a fine job with the material. The directing is competent. I went into this with fairly low expectations and was surprised. I’m not calling yet a great film, but it is very good. It’s good enough that you could watch it again and still enjoy it.

Prairie Fever is a surprisingly good Western film. It’s not an edge of your seat actioner. It’s a mild drama that doesn’t make everyone terrible in order to get drama from the material. I recommend this one.

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

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