One Year Out from Release, “Young Guns III: Alias Billy the Kid” Begins to Take Shape with the Casting of Christian Slater, Lou Diamond Phillips

If you’re any sort of a fan of renowned scribe John Fusco’s Young Guns saga, then these are exciting times indeed as the third entry in the western film series about the life, times and legend of one William H. Bonney – alias Billy the Kid – is beginning to crystalize and become closer to an actual reality.

 Young Guns saw release back in 1988 and almost singlehandedly helped to revive the ailing western movie genre which at the time was being read its Last Rites by studio executives anxious for the next Rambo and Lethal Weapon-themed movies. Featuring a young up and coming cast headlined by actor Emilio Esevez as the one and only Billy the Kid, writer John Fusco and director Christopher Cain invited audiences along on their six-shooter opera which lovingly deconstructed the many myths of the Kid and his band of Regulators (essayed to pitch perfection by such stalwarts as Lou Diamond Phillips, Kiefer Sutherland, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko and Charlie Sheen).

The first outing proved so popular that a sequel seemed all but inevitable, and lo just two years later Young Guns II picked up the story where the first film had left off, with the Kid on the run from former pal Pat Garrett, now a sheriff tasked with bringing in the outlaw dead or alive. A few things were different in this new chapter, too: Stepping into the director’s chair was Geoff Murphy and joining returning veteran’s Estevez, Sutherland and Phillips in memorable turns were actors Christian Slater, Balthazar Getty, Alan Ruck and William Petersen. The magic of the first film carried through thanks to the return and steady presence of Fusco and if anything, elevated the sophomore outing to high Shakespearean tragedy. Helping the proceedings along was lush cinematography from the first film’s DP Dean Semler and a truly epic score by Alan Silvestri (with a memorable and commercial assist by none other than Jon Bon Jovi who scored an Oscar nom for his efforts). By the time the final reel unspooled in movie houses across the land, it truly felt like the story of Young Guns had been told.

 However, it always felt to die-hard aficionados of the duo of Guns movies that there might just be one last story to tell about the notorious outlaw and his band of compadres; after all, it had long been rumored that Billy the Kid faked his death, something that was teased in the second installment. Might there not be an untold chapter in the Kid’s story that could lasso Estevez and the surviving Regulators back for one last curtain call? Turns out that the film’s creator and writer John Fusco felt the same way. And so it was that, after thirty years of absence from the nation’s film screens, Young Guns III was announced. Since that announcement, details have begun to trickle out: Joining Fusco in writing the screenplay for the new entry (now titled Guns III: Alias Billy the Kid) would be none other than Emilio Estevez himself who, in a neat twist, would also be directing the feature film as well as acting in it.

 This modern day Pat Garrett has striven mightily to keep up with the Kid and his surviving Regulators, writing no less than two articles on the upcoming film, even as I’ve worked what meager connections I may have to ferret out more details on the production. To that end, a sudden groundswell (well, perhaps a slight tremble) of information has come to light over the last week about Guns III, forcing my shaky six-shooter to write this new update.

 Set for an August 3, 2022 release (that’s less than a year away, cowpokes), Guns III has – according to its official IMDb page – officially rustled up former Regulators Lou Diamond Phillips and Christian Slater to co-star alongside Emilio Estevez for this ride off into the sunset. Any fan of Young Guns can tell you that Phillips’ character – knifesmith Jose Chavez y Chavez – apparently bought it at the tail-end of Young Guns II, while Slater’s malcontent Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh seemingly got his off-camera in the same film. So what gives with their return? There is actually justifiable wiggle room for both actors to return for the final curtain call in the series: In hindsight, and with the announcement of Phillips saddling up for the new film, there’s just enough of a nebulous quality to the actor’s death scene in that sophomore film to leave it open for interpretation (i.e. “He got better”). Meanwhile, Slater’s character never died on-camera, and instead fans were left with a final scene featuring Arkansas Dave that only implied he was about to sing a chorus alongside Davey Jones’ Locker. For this longtime fan of the film series, these explanations for their return more than holds water – or whiskey, if that’s more your vice.

 Guns III has been listed as being in pre-production with filming scheduled to take place in the Santa Fe area of New Mexico. The projected budget for the capper on the Young Guns trilogy has been given as $50,000,000 smackers.

 The author of this article reached out to writer John Fusco for comment on Guns III prior to going to press with no luck, alas. Vents will continue to keep you up to date on this upcoming western as the news rolls in and we’ll also keep plugging away for interviews with the cast and crew as we get closer to the August 2022 release date! Stay tuned all you cowboys and cowgirls!

About Ryan Vandergriff

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