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‘Last of the Dogmen’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 12, 1995

"This here's a western," says narrator Wilfred Brimley at the start of "Last of the Dogmen." No duh! The presence of iconoclastic cowpoke Lewis Gates (Tom Berenger) was a dead giveaway, but first-time director Tab Murphy apparently has no faith in an audience's powers of observation.

"Good stories all begin and end in the same place: the heart of a man . . . or a woman," continues Brimley, whose folksy intonations and sense of the obvious echo the doings on screen. He says he got this particular yarn from Gates, a modern-day bounty-hunter who discovers a Cheyenne Shangri-La in a remote region of the Rocky Mountains.

Hired to hunt down three escaped convicts in "4,000 miles of the roughest country God ever put on a map," the hero and his trusty dog, Zip, successfully locate the trio's trail, but are mystified when the men seem to vanish in a sudden mist. Then Zip finds a broken arrow. Woof, woof.

Gates, obsessed by the artifact, sets off to a nearby dig to consult Dr. Lillian Sloan (Barbara Hershey), a prickly anthropologist who specializes in Native American culture. At first, she laughs off Gates's theory that a lost tribe of Cheyenne is hidden deep in the Montana high country. Then, it hits her—and Wilfred, of course—that a small company of Cheyenne "dog soldiers" (warriors known as dogmen) escaped the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. Could it be that they survived undetected for 130 years?

Dr. Sloan's excitement overcomes her contempt for the unkempt, unlearned bounty hunter, and she insists on returning with him to the region. Gates doesn't take to the idea. "This ain't gonna be a picnic, lady. I've seen this country reduce grown men to tears. It sure ain't no place for a woman." She pooh-poohs his manly protestations and they set off on horseback, the loyal Zip running alongside. As they travel deeper into the scenic outback, they begin to sense that they are not alone.

Their adversarial relationship, which harks back to "The African Queen," predictably leads to romance, no matter that Hershey's steely smarty-pants and Berenger's sexist mountain man seem less likely to hit it off than Brimley and Zip. The relationship, the dialogue, the story line, everything about this goofy combination of "Lost Horizon" and "Dances With Wolves" is cliched.

But it sure does leave you with a powerful hankering for oats.

Last of the Dogmen is rated PG.

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