Two movies opening exclusively at the Texas Theatre, both a mixed bag:

As its title implies, writer-director-actor Tanner Beard’s The Legend of Hell’s Gate: An American Conspiracy is an ambitious, sprawling, and muddled take on the allegedly true story associated with the Possum Kingdom Lake cliff formation. There’s a good western romp in there somewhere, but viewers have to sift through a lot of superfluous detail to get to it.

Beard stars as down-and-out Irish ne’er-do-well James McKinnon, opposite Eric Balfour and Lou Taylor Pucci as equally unfortunate bounty hunter Will Edwards and local errand boy Kelly, respectively. They’re a classic spaghetti western-style group of anti-heroes, a trio of men who normally would have nothing to do with one another but who are thrust together by circumstances beyond their control.

Specifically, they wind up on the run together after an attempt to bring a sleazy saloon owner to justice devolves into a robbery and massive shoot-out (initiated by Doc Holliday, no less) in the streets of Dallas circa 1876 that leaves several dead and turns McKinnon and Edwards into fugitives. At the same time, Kelly goes on the lam after stealing what might be the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln from a tubercular businessman (Henry Thomas of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial fame, who seems to be slipping farther down the cinematic food chain with each passing year) who claims to be John Wilkes Booth via a deathbed confession.

McKinnon, Kelly, and Edwards bicker endlessly while robbing the East Texas population blind as they dodge a posse, Comanches, and possibly psychotic fur trapper on the way towards what will either be escape or an apocalyptic showdown of Tarantinoan proportions.

Which makes it sound more interesting than it really is. The movie is well-cast with recognizable faces — Summer Glau (Firefly), Glenn Morshower (24), Jamie Thomas King (The Tudors), and character actor Buck Taylor (Cowboys & Aliens) — whose characters clutter a chaotic, confusing story. Tanner valiantly attempts to at character development, but his technique results in what feels like inconsequential story threads that are quickly abandoned.

The Legend of Hell’s Gate doesn’t focus itself and deliver some good western tropes until almost an hour in, and Beard never puts its historical details into perspective. It gets pretty good when it finally does pick up the pace, but by then it’s too little, too late.

An erotic French drama about two married couples who swap partners sounds intriguing on the page, but as committed to film by Antony Cordier Four Lovers instead offers little more than soft-core titillation punctuated by tedium.

The story unfolds mostly through the eyes of Rachel (Marina Foïs), a jewelry designer married to Franck (Roschdy Zem), a feng shui expert and writer with whom she has a daughter. Rachel’s flirtations with a website designer, Vincent (Nicolas Duvauchelle) sets up a dinner party that results rather perfunctorily in Rachel and Franck making arrangements with Vincent and his French-American wife Teri (Élodie Bouchez) to enter into an open relationship and swap partners for sexual purposes.

Unfortunately for us, they’re a largely uninteresting, uncomplicated, and not very kinky quartet. Of course, jealousy, boredom, insecurity, and everything else that can befuddle romantic relationships start to creep in, and the logistics of career, family, and what’s essentially a double marriage become physically and emotionally exhausting for everyone involved.

Four Lovers is a visually alluring movie, its naked bodies and idyllic locations beautifully framed and lit, but its story a remote, inert one that fails to engage the viewer. The very real notion that they’re not in love with each other but the group as a whole is a compelling one, and Cordier does a good job in presenting the subtle dynamics of a polyamorous relationship, but does little to explore them in-depth. With dreary voiceover thrown in, it becomes crushingly tedious. It’s a wasted opportunity to tackle a tricky and mildly taboo subject; instead, we’re given a clichéd, tepid pot-boiler about the indiscrete boredom of the bourgeoisie.

—By Gary Dowell