Sharpshooter Quigley is unwittingly hired by an unscrupulous ranch owner to kill off local aborigines. He refuses and a pitched battle between the marlsman and the redneck ensues.
1860s Australia is hardly the traditional home of the Western but these are desperate times for this embattled genre. Enter Mathew Quigley (Selleck), a taciturn marksman who has sailed half way round the world to put his cannon-like long rifle at the service of a wealthy English cattle rancher, Elliot Marston. Quigley has hardly hauled his saddlebags off the boat before he is fighting the rancher's men over Laura San Giacomo's Cora, a fellow American who lost her baby and most of her marbles in an Indian raid back home.
This being Hollywood, Quigley hasn't bothered to enquire about the exact nature of the work in question and is disgusted to find that the foppish Marston has hired him to kill off aboriginies. Naturally Quigley knocks the bounder down but soon finds himself dumped in the outback with Cora in tow. Befriended by aboriginies, the pair soon find themselves locked in mortal combat with Marston and the relentless landscape.
The Australian outback is a magnificent substitute for the Arizona desert, the aboriginies are both mythical and touching and Rickman's Marston is as unpleasant a landowner as any vintage American cattle baron. Tom Selleck manages to combine the mythic demands of his role with his usual self-deprecating shrugs and raised eyebrows and Rickman hams it up as a foppish cad who fancies himself as a gunfighter.
Yet the jokey nature of the film's opening ultimately sits uneasily with Crazy Cora's increasingly complex sense of heartbreak and Marston's horrifically realistic stabs at aboriginal genocide. A particularly brutal scene in which Marston's men run a group of aboriginies off a cliff has a realism which jars with both Sellecks amiability and the cosy plays on the Western genre which dominate elsewhere. Ultimately, Quigley Down Under undermines its own credibility and tone by having it both ways too many times.
This film falls down in it's attempts to do everything at once, so that a potentially horrific scenario is often played out to comic effect. It doesn't quite work and the film manages to undermine itself.