May 31, 1993 12:00 PM

Mario Van Peebles, Stephen Baldwin, Billy Zane, Blair Underwood, Richard Jordan, Woody Strode

Let’s not beat around the sagebrush. Posse is no Unforgiven—and Van Peebles, its star and director, is no Clint Eastwood—but neither is it unforgivable. A cliché-loaded western doing double duty as a black-history lesson (the film’s credits state that nearly 1 million African-Americans headed out West between 1870 and 1900), Posse is about a Spanish-American War deserter (Van Peebles) who, accompanied by a ragtag group of fellow deserters and chased by his psycho commanding officer (Zane), rides West to avenge his preacher father’s murder.

The movie has too much plot, too man) villains. choppy pacing and unnecessarily flashy camera angles straight from the Look, Ma, I’m a Director School of Filmmaking. But its heart and sense of humor are in the right place—which is what ultimately saves Posse from being a completely self-indulgent, blood-spattered mess.

As a director, Van Peebles takes his cues more from Sergio Leone than from John Ford, overplaying scenes—especially those involving gunplay—rather than underplaying them. As an actor, he seems more comfortable displaying his pumped-up pectorals than any kind of emotion. Baldwin is wryly amusing as the token white in Van Peebles’s posse, while Zane overdoes the wacko bit. As for the rest of the eclectic cast, whose members include real actors (Jordan and LA. Law’s Underwood), rappers (Tone Loc and Big Daddy Kane) and faces from the ’70s (Pam Grier and Van Peebles’s real-life lather, Melvin), few have enough screen time to make much of an impression. (R)

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