Drifter John Smith (an almost catatonically laid-back Bruce Willis) wafts into Jericho, a piss-hole of a town dominated by the uneasy truce between a low-grade Mafioso outfit and a local Irish group. With both gangs embroiled in the lucrative bootleg trade Smith seizes the chance to exploit the situation.
Long the acknowledged master of style over content, Walter Hill returns to something akin to form with this ear-shattering bootleg drama adapted, with typical looseness, from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (inspiration for Sergio Leone's A Fistful Of Dollars).
The story, such as it is, has drifter John Smith (an almost catatonically laid-back Willis) wafting into Jericho, a veritable piss-hole of a town complete with "population" sign chalk-adjusted to take account of the stiff in the mortician's window, and ruled by two warring gangs.
Smith acts as an amoral catalyst - within five minutes of arriving he's blasted one gang's lead henchman into the hereafter in the first of a relentless bloody cavalcade of claret-drenched shoot-outs. Recruited first by one gang, and then defecting to the other, he creams both for all available cash while avoiding the stylishly psychotic attentions of Hickey (Christopher Walken, yet again lurching just too close to caricature for comfort). Finally, the law turns up and declares that if, when it returns, there is more than one gang running the show, by the time it's finished, there'll be none.
Hill turns in a typically polished actioner which boasts a couple of inventive visual twists - crashing the gangster and Western genres into each other to generate pleasingly weird moments such as tumbleweed rolling through a set-up for a gangster shoot-out. But plot is shovelled in whenever he's run out of squibs via the last resort of the desperate screenwriter - a moody voice-over from Willis.
There's also a shrieking two dimensionality to almost all the supporting performances with the exception of William Sanderson as bar-owner Joe who has, in the final sequence, the best line of the movie.
The film's real strength is the way it sounds, with Ry Cooder's jangling score competing with thunderous gunplay for the shell-like's appreciative attention.