August 25, 2003 12:00 PM

Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon

When Costner’s cowpoke delivers a eulogy for a faithful pooch that was gunned down by scalawags, two horses grazing near the grave site lift their heads as if to acknowledge the nobility of his words. It’s exactly that kind of sappy touch that sometimes spoils Open Range, a well-acted but all-too-predictable western, which Costner (see page 67) also directed.

The film, shot in Alberta, Canada, but set in the fictional Wild West town of Harmonville, is visually splendid with its panoramas of majestic mountains and rolling grasslands. A fight over grazing rights on those grasslands kick-starts Range’s familiar plot: A moneybags rancher (Gambon) forbids grizzled cowboys Boss Spearman (Duvall) and Charley Waite (Costner) from letting their cattle munch on his land. Things get nasty and the inevitable big shootout ensues. Range‘s best moments come during a romantic subplot between Waite and a doctor’s assistant (Bening), whom Spearman aptly describes as the sort of woman “who makes a man think about putting down roots.” (R) BOTTOM LINE: Nothing much new in this sturdy tale of the Old West

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