Notwithstanding the participation of two major stars — Ethan Hawke and John Travolta — Ti West’s “In a Valley of Violence” is a toss off, an indifferent diversion at best.
It’s a mashup of Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western elements — an animated credit sequence that mimics that of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and an ersatz Morricone soundtrack of tympani, Indian flutes and electric guitars — and oater cliches somewhat bent by eruptions of oddball humor.
Paul (Hawke) is a lone rider headed to Mexico in the company of his dog, an adorable mutt. Everybody who sees the pooch wants to know if it does tricks. “She bites,” is Paul’s sullen reply.
In an all-but-abandoned former mining town Paul slows down for a bath and a shopping spree in the general store. But he runs afoul of Gilly (James Ransone), the pushy, trigger-happy deputy and son of the local marshal (Travolta).
After leaving the burg, Paul is waylaid by Gilly and his fellow deputies, who do bad things to him and his dog. Left for dead, Paul gets his shit together and heads back to town for revenge.
There are some small pleasures here. Travolta’s Marshal is a loquacious sort out of a Tarantino film, and he at least has the decency to be embarrassed by his idiot offspring. Taiga Farming plays a teenage hotel maid who becomes our hero’s confidant; Karen Gillan is her prettier spoiled sister.
The film looks good but, really, West’s “High Noon”-ish plot is way too familiar and the abrupt tonal changes — bloody sadism to goofy silliness — are less intriguing than irritating.