Goodnight for Justice

Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Worn down by booze and haunted by the murder of his parents, Judge John Goodnight (a surprisingly solid Luke Perry) is sent to an untamed territory in Wyoming by his influential stepmother, who recognizes his need for a lifestyle change. A stickler for the law with a dislike for lawyers, Goodnight dispenses frontier justice, traveling solo from one primitive manure-spattered town to the next. Along the way, he encounters Kate Ramsey, who's being accosted by two Neanderthal highwaymen with bad teeth. With a burst of lead, Goodnight says goodbye to the bad men. (By the looks of these two negative I.Q. throwbacks it's likely they would have shot themselves anyway.) A grateful and talkative Kate strikes up a friendship with Goodnight as they make their way to the town of Crooked Stick - and Goodnight's destiny.

There's nothing new here. If you've ever seen an episode of "Bonanza" or western movie classics like "High Noon" or "The Unforgiven" then you'll quickly recognize "Goodnight for Justice" as the story of a man with morals who has everything he owns in two saddlebags verses a villain with no morals and unlimited resources. What makes "Goodnight for Justice" worth a peek down the old gunsight is Luke Perry's convincing everyman portrayal. Goodnight's excessive imbibing, chasing "floozies" and waxing cynical about lawyers is comedic and lovable, but by the same token he's got an off-the-scale sense of justice that makes his character heroic and admirable.

At the core of "Goodnight for Justice" is John Justice's quest for vengeance. Twenty years ago, a wagon carrying him, his father, mother, paragon of justice judge Shaw and his wife Rebecca was ambushed. Everyone but John and Rebecca was killed by a man who was shot in the leg by his father. In a show of old west machismo, the killer spotted John hiding in the brush but allowed him to live. Now, as circuit judge for an area that includes Crooked Stick, John runs afoul of Dan Reed, a land baron who ruthlessly rules the town by dispensing his own brand of the law - and Reed happens to walk with a distinct limp.

When Goodnight rules that a band of Indians that crossed Reed's land (and were beaten and imprisoned for thirty days for doing it) are innocent, Reed promises the judge he'll never leave town alive, setting up the inevitable clash between good and evil.

Every oater needs a dimpled damsel in distress who bats her eyes and that thankless role falls to Lara Gilchrist, who plays talkative Kate Ramsey. Although Ramsey's Kate finds herself in a stereotypical position - kidnapped in order to get Goodnight to release Reed from jail - she's also given better moments that define her, such as showing spunky defiance of Reed as an advocate for the Indians or her playful I-know-what-I-want-and-how-to-get-it pursuit of Goodnight. Gilchrist is a lively, lovely trooper in the tradition of tough but humorous and lady-like pioneer women played by Virginia Mayo or Barbara Stanwyck.

Winston Rekert's long pursued Frank LeGrange babbles like a western version of "Apocalypse Now's" Colonel Kurtz. His erudite dialogue is incongruous with his character's kill-for-fun legacy, even if he's had twenty years to get some schoolin'. The main villain, Dan Reed, is a generic megalomaniac who believes he can do as he pleases because he owns most of the town. In a lesser actors hands, Dan Reed would be a stereotypical, moustache-twirling Porterhouse shoveling threat to society, but through his steely, menacing expressions and intimidating attitude Ron Lea gives Reed's single mindedness a believable edge.   

"Goodnight for Justice" was made for TV, specifically The Hallmark Channel, so there's no corsets getting popped or bad guys getting popped in the head. There's very little bloodletting, (looks like they used the same bottle of ketchup for the entire length of the movie) so you can sit there with your eight-year old son or daughter without fear of nudity, gore or unnecessary F-bombs.

There are welcome moments of comedy (some a little forced) such as Judge Goodnight presiding over a case to decide whether a reed-thin husband or one ton wife has bathtub rights; but the script is balanced by the scurrilous case of a smug Klu Klux Klan member getting away with murder because of a lack of evidence. (But don't worry, kids. Goodnight manages to exact a measure of non-legal justice for the lynched victim.)

Good Extras

"Goodnight for Justice" extras include interviews with stars Luke Perry, Lara Gilchrist and director Jason Priestley, who waxes sentimentally about his long-time friendship with Perry: "Luke and I have great shorthand." Priestly also points out that "Goodnight for Justice" was shot on the set of "Bordertown," a gritty Canadian western TV series that ran from 1989-91.

Gilchrist is bubby and charming, happy to be there, although slightly taken aback by the weight of her costumes: "Wearing a corset is insane." Perry, who developed the project, get the most screen time, commenting on the cast's diversity and Reed's unwavering hatred of the Indians. Perry also gives his take on the uncomfortable period costumes.

"Goodnight for Justice" isn't an instant classic western like "Tombstone." It's more like one of the westerns that starred Randolph Scott, a capable, tall-in-the-saddle stoic hero, whose films didn't warrant Oscars but were still entertaining. If you put "Justice" in your DVD player, you can sit back and relax, 'cause you'll be in for a pretty good night of viewin', pardner.

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