Movie fans of the original 1939 "Stagecoach" (starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell) or the 1966 remake (with Ann Margaret, Red Buttons, Alex Cord, Bing Crosby, Slim Pickens, Van Heflin, Stefanie Powers, and Mike Connors) can relax and not get excited. This is not a remake.


Director Terry Miles latest film is so far removed from the Ernest Haycox oater, you wonder how he had the nerve to stick the tag Stagecoach in the title. It's merely a marketing ploy. A cruel, cruel joke on true western genre fans.


This one stars Trace Atkins who has churned out a few Country-Western hits like Ladies Love Country Boys and You're Gonna Miss This, and a few recognizable B-listers - Kim Coates, Judd Nelson and John Emmet Tracy. But instead of a film about the harrowing stagecoach ride, it is about a stagecoach bandit seeking redemption.

Adkins plays the lead as Nathaniel Reed - aka Texas Jack - a stagecoach robber who opens the film robbing a stage but quickly hangs up his guns after meeting Laura (Michelle Harrison). They settle down in the middle of nowhere as farmers.


But as fate would have it, his past catches up with him in the person of US Marshal Calhoun (Coates) who has a grudge against Reed and isn't worrying about laws to fulfill his vendetta. He begins plucking off members of Reeds old gang until he finds Reed; but reed escapes after getting an early heads up.


He returns to robbing stagecoaches with a couple from his old gang; one who resents his return as gang leader. In the meantime, he hears that Laura has been killed and - well his emotions are rather half baked at this point. There is a moment when the story could have gotten interesting with an all out revenge theme. Instead it remains very soft through to the disappointing end.


While the original "Stagecoach" was far from the greatest western ever filmed, it did set a template that has been a standard with every decent horse opera since... a well rounded cast with strong character development, a difficult quest, and a seemingly hopeless showdown against unthinkable odds. When you examine "Unforgiven", "High Noon", "The Searchers", "True Grit", "The Magnificent Seven", "Rio Bravo", "The Wild Bunch", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and even the recent "Slow West" - you find each one follows the template.


While this film has very brief moments that picque one's interest, it wanders aimlessly until trouble catches up to the lead. It doesn't help that the acting was stiff and flat, like everyone was reading lines rather than emoting.


"Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story" fails to follow a workable template and it really needed to follow a template. The photography helps, but...grab the oxygen mask, this one needs some life!   -- GEOFF BURTON