A great big ol’ juicy Western you can sink your teeth into, Larry McMurtry’s Streets of Laredo is the truly fitting sequel to 1989’s great Lonesome Dove. Forget about that boring Return to Lonesome Dove (1993), which, unlike its predecessor, was not a version of a McMurtry novel. Streets of Laredo, which is from McMurtry’s 1993 work, has the tart dialogue and tough action you want in an elaborate five-hour production like this.
In Laredo, James Garner plays Capt. Woodrow Call (the Dove role originated by Tommy Lee Jones), who has now left the Texas Rangers to become a bounty hunter. He’s after Joey Garza (Alexis Cruz), a fair-haired Mexican bandit. Joey is young and cocky; Call is old and realistic — it’s fun to watch these two match wits. If you’ve forgotten that James Garner is one of the finest actors television has ever produced, Laredo will remind you of it. Sporting a scraggly gray beard and pitching his voice a little higher than usual to convey Call’s weariness, Garner has exactly the sort of easy authority needed here. Authority, and a gratifying sarcasm: When someone tells him that his search for Joey Garza is ”the talk of the whole West,” Call snaps, ”I wish the whole West would keep its mouth shut.”
In tracking down Joey, Garner enlists the aid of his old corporal, Pea Eye Parker, played by Sam Shepard (Tim Scott’s role in the original Dove). Pea Eye is married now — to Sissy Spacek’s Lorena Parker, a prostitute-turned-schoolteacher — and has five children, all of which makes him reluctant to sign on for a potentially lethal job. Also along for the ride is Famous Shoes, a Native American tracker played, with a wry sense of humor, by Wes Studi (Geronimo: An American Legend). Sonia Braga pops up as Joey’s put-upon mother, and for reasons too complicated to go into, she gets to shoot a pig right between the eyes. The best bad-guy performance comes from Randy Quaid, who portrays the outlaw John Wesley Hardin as a mean, exasperated fellow who shoots people who annoy him.
As with Lonesome Dove, there’s a lot of grim stuff in Laredo. In addition to the pig termination, there are bloody gunfights, the sight of a dead nude body, a leg amputation — and every bit of this is dramatically justified. McMurtry’s ongoing point is that much of the old West was a cruel, violent place where people enacted their own moral codes. It’s the serious subtext to a wonderfully entertaining TV movie. A-