A movie review of "Blackthorn," director Mateo Gil's interesting sequel to 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" starring Sam Shepard as the aging, grizzled Butch.

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Did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid really die in a shootout with the Bolivian army in 1908?

What if, according to a mysterious something this film calls “recent investigations,” it didn’t happen that way at all? What if one of them survived until 1927, when he decided to return to the United States to visit his son?

According to the creators of “Blackthorn,” Butch, originally played by the late Paul Newman, ended up looking a lot like an aging, grizzled Sam Shepard. As for Sundance — Robert Redford’s breakthrough role — he’s played in flashbacks by Padraic Delaney, who doesn’t carry the same weight.

Shepard dominates the film, especially in his scenes with a feisty Madrid thief, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega). He starts out shooting at Butch (who goes by the name James Blackthorn) but then appears to develop an affection for him. The feeling seems to be mutual, and for a while “Blackthorn” threatens to turn into another buddy movie on the prairie.

The sequel echoes some famous episodes from the 1969 movie (there’s that posse always in pursuit in the distance), then turns the plot around for an interesting surprise. The key to the story turns out to be a sinister character (Stephen Rea) who reminds us just how Butch and Sundance established their careers.

Because the still-popular Newman/Redford original, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” has already produced a prequel (1979’s forgotten “Butch and Sundance: The Early Days”), the filmmakers didn’t have a lot of options. In some ways the new picture feels like a boxed-in replay.

“Blackthorn” was directed by Mateo Gil, co-writer of the Oscar-winning “The Sea Inside” and last year’s ambitious historical drama “Agora.” He makes the most of the spectacular Bolivian scenery, while relying on Shepard and Noriega to create a sense of friendship that barely exists in the script.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com