Westerns get a new accent in New Zealand’s “Good For Nothing.” Enter the universe of this film, and you’ll soon know that it’s a man’s world, with dusty cheeks, spit-slinging bad guys, and danger rattling like a snake around every corner. The gents don’t fool around, which explains why the tagline reads “This Ain’t No Place For A Lady.” And yet, a lady we see at the film’s start, an Englishwoman who sets her dainty, proper feet on violent soil, within seconds in the clutches of a violent marauder whose closeness only makes the class chasm separating them grow wider.
Our unnamed criminal, a dark, brooding type with some noticeable hygenic issues, nonetheless cuts a handsome figure in a cowboy hat. Even as he grabs this fair lady while running from bullets (the implicit suggestion that, if not now, he’ll eventually use her as a shield), we see it from his perspective, one against the gang, and so our allegiance is drawn to him, already established as something of an antihero. But when he throws his fair lady to the ground and unstraps his pants, she writhes in agony. Once again, the script is flipped: as he later tells a doctor, “My dick is broke.”
Writer-director Mike Wallis is clearly having a good time with this un-self-conscious cowpoke narrative. Skimpy, but straightforward in the tradition of the spaghettis, “Good For Nothing” finds this gruff nowhere man warming up to his hoity-toity captive as the bullets approach. Our villains are in hot pursuit, but, without a nudge or a wink, Wallis has our hero seemingly more concerned with the dormancy of his loins rather than saving his own life. He’s out for himself, but it’s only when he notices just how lovely his bounty is, our hero finally stops and smells the roses. The gorgeous cinematography provides a generous backdrop to allow our lovers to fall in each others’ arms, but Wallis isn’t above getting his nameless protag’s heart racing as his kidnapped beauty presses her bosom to his shoulder. The score, from newcomer John Psathas, charmingly mimicks Morricone, and even if it sometimes comes across sounding more like the flawed Danger Mouse–Daniel Luppi Rome collaboration, it’s still fittingly plucky and era-appropriate.
The romantic aspect sadly leaves much to be desired. This could have worked, of course, but the nameless hero is hard to respect with very little dialogue after attempting to kick the film off with him raping his charge. The two of them don’t even seem like they’re on the same planet, and she doesn’t seem to realize how much of an animal this guy truly is. The tight-cheeked, lightly bearded Cohen Halloway casts a nice saloon silouhette as our gun-slinging killer, equally admirable taking down some baddies as he is charmingly picking food from his teeth with a knife. Female lead Inge Rademeyer is similarly compelling. Her strong jaw recalls that of Kiwi sensation Lucy Lawless, and her intelligent lidded eyes recall the underrated American actress Carla Gallo. Might as well be photogenic before getting covered in mud.
“Good For Nothing” ends up being quite modest, though that’s probably for the best, as there are no attempts to “subvert” or “exploit” the conventions of the genre. Without direct callbacks, “Good For Nothing” shows confidence in crafting its story, and even allowing some jokes to emerge organically. One such moment involves a standing shootout between two inept gunmen standing on opposite sides of a creek. As they repeatedly misfire, a group of bandits on horses watch silently, completely unconcerned with the bullets flying in all directions. Why interrupt, they ask. It’s best to just enjoy the show, as straightforward as it is. [B]