There’s one kind of prejudice that’s still allowed in our post-politically correct world---contempt for the redneck. It’s the one stereotype that defies death…urban blacks are misunderstood, Arabs are inherently noble (except for a few loonies), Asians are honorable…but the redneck is perpetually ignorant, angry, hateful and just plain mean, the guys who perpetuate the OTHER stereotypes and then hang them from trees and bridge overpasses when they encroach upon “Dixie.”I rail against this thought process, wanting to defend my home region, the South, where the worst of these rednecks, the raging crackers and the good ol’ boys, supposedly congregate at their most vitriolic, at the apex of their bufoonery. I combat such perceptions, knowing that my friends and colleagues don’t represent the faded tintype of shotguns and moonshine that those culture brokers always searching for a bad guy would have you believe.
"The working title was RIDING THE BULL IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN"
But then I see URBAN COWBOY, and I feel like a guy named Mohammed on September 12.
UC (as it would be known in today’s Hollywood marketing machine…”Wait ‘til you see UC!”) is the story of Bud Davis (John Travolta), a regular schmoe who moves in with his aunt and uncle (Brooke Alderson and the always-watchable Barry Corbin) near Houston, Texas to find work. Before you know it he’s hanging out in a bar and screwing a floozy named Sissy (Debra Winger), and before you know it AGAIN they’re hitched and living in a trailer. Being a pretty unremarkable dude both physically and certainly intellectually, Bud decides to distinguish himself by riding the motorized bull at said bar, Gilley’s, and he soon derives his entire paradigm around saddling the mechanical beefsteak. Nope, no saving to buy a house from that refinery job his uncle helped him acquire, maybe working some overtime for a promotion, as he’s gotta master riding the bull at the honky tonk.
And then (heh) Bud gets upset and (heh, heh) even ANGRY that Sissy (chuckle, chortle), his new bride (uhm, excuse me…snort), decides that (hahahahahaha), uhm, that she want to (swallow, sweat…ha), she wants to (catches breath)…SHE WANTS TO RIDE THE BULL, TOO!!!!!! BWAH-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!
As if that utterly translucent metaphor wasn’t enough, we’re soon treated to the fly in the ointment, Wes (Scott Glenn), an ex-con “real” cowboy who is all too happy to give Sissy lessons on (oh shit oh shit oh shit)…RIDING THE BULL!!!!!! This all comes just after he beats the snot out of Bud in a bar brawl, so any sympathy one might have generated for Sissy goes out the door as she sidles up next to the reigning Gilley’s alpha male. Of course, Bud, who is far more interested in riding the bull than paying attention to Sissy (insert your own “steers and queers” joke here), is a boorish lout in his own right who casually beats Sissy and develops a crush on the rich pretty girl Pam (Madolyn Smith). Why a rich chick would want to pick up a loser like Bud, except perhaps to piss her parents off, is never explained adequately, either, so the average audient is left with the conclusion that this is just the way it is in Texas, where men are men and cattle are scared. As such, the mechanical bull (let’s call him “Hoyt Bob”) comes off as the most courageous, vital, three-dimensional character in the film entire, risking rape and buggery every night to provide entertainment to a bunch of retarded post-adolescent saltines.
URBAN COWBOY was greenlit by Paramount to try to cash in on the country and western craze in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and while the images of Travolta in a cowboy hat, the culture of the honky tonk bar, and Hoyt Bob himself are burned into collective corneas like a nuclear flash-fry, the movie BOMBED! You’d think it was a hit in hindsight, but it didn’t play outside Arkansas, I guess. The producers even threw in a whole passel of real live country music performers (Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Daniels, and Mickey Gilley himself) into the film to perform bar band style (in a move straight out of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, fer Hoyt Bob’s sake) and engineered a big target-marketed soundtrack of passable country tunes to try to cash in on their cashing in. It’s an early exercise in more thought going to residual product than the frickin’ movie they’re supposed to be promoting, it seems.
The crew seems to be going for a “trials and heartbreaks of the working man” milieu, but most real working men work more than they cut up and fight in a roadhouse. This film still retains a cult status among a bunch of barflies and Southern country folk, but I can only hope they’re watching it for the few bright spots in the mostly-fair acting (particularly Glenn), or perhaps some of the tunes, but I have a sick, sick feeling that the audience of this film uses it to justify their own unimaginative existence spent drinking in bars, country dancing, and turning a blind eye to constant cruel treatment and indifferent dismissal of women by the men who supposedly love them.As a post-script, director James Bridges also helmed Travolta in PERFECT a few years later (written by UC scribe Aaron Latham), a film that failed to cash in on the simultaneous physical fitness and legwarmer crazes on the mid-80’s. Whoever got that dream team together once more was surely trying to drive his studio into bankruptcy, anaphylactic shock, or perhaps both.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3616&reviewer=21
originally posted: 07/03/02 16:41:55