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Movie Review: 'Wooly Boys': Script takes a back seat

If the script for "Wooly Boys" was as fine as the performances, it would be a seriously good movie. On the other hand, the performers and director Leszek Burzynski deserve credit for making a film that's better than it has any right to be, given ...

If the script for "Wooly Boys" was as fine as the performances, it would be a seriously good movie.

On the other hand, the performers and director Leszek Burzynski deserve credit for making a film that's better than it has any right to be, given the basic material.

"Wooly Boys," the first film with major stars made in North Dakota, is about an old rancher, Stoney (Peter Fonda), who reconnects with his spoiled, city-bred grandson Charles (Joseph Mazzello) by kidnapping him and bringing him to his Badlands sheep farm. Stoney is aided in the enterprise by his grizzled partner, Shuck (Kris Kristofferson).

The story is relentlessly formulaic, right down to a cheaply emotional scene at the end.

For example, Stoney is dying. One character says he has an aneurysm, but what he apparently has is Old Movie Disease, which causes him to collapse whenever the plot requires it.

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Five scriptwriters are credited and it's never a good sign when that many cooks dip into the broth.

Some of the lines would shame an eighth-grade English student: "You're so full of it, Stoney, it's no wonder your eyes are brown." "Stoney and Shuck are as old as the hills on grandma's chest."

One of the writers apparently was geographically confused, thinking that Medora is somewhere in southern Alabama. The woman who sells Stoney a bus ticket to Minneapolis notes that he hasn't taken the bus "since Dolly Parton went from a C-cup to a triple-D."

The script provides almost no arc of character development. People just change with a nearly audible "poof." A day after arriving at the ranch, Charles, who has never been on a horse, is riding like John Wayne, only better.

But even with a dumb script, the actors give it a good shot.

Fonda is understated and as subtle as the material allows. He's been quoted as saying his part is the kind his father would have played, and he's right. While there are echoes of the late Henry Fonda in Peter's performance, though, he doesn't just turn it into a "On Golden Butte."

Along with Fonda, Mazzello gives the best performance. He's such a wiseacre, you spend the first part of the movie wanting to slap him and the second half rooting for him.

Kristofferson is the very definition of "crusty." You can almost smell the booze and body odor. And given that he's saddled with many of the dumbest lines, it's a Herculean effort.

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The chemistry among all three is convincing. To the extent there's any character development at all, it's provided by the deft acting work. And in the best scene, when Charles and Shuck break Stoney out of the hospital, the performances are quite funny.

Keith Carradine, who's always a pleasure to watch, gives a wry turn as the local sheriff.

The film looks great. Burzynski does a wonderful job with the Badlands. He uses plenty of wide shots that take full advantage of the majesty of North Dakota's most impressive terrain. It's got the look of a real movie, not just a tourism ad.

The nascent North Dakota film industry is hoping "Wooly Boys" will attract more Hollywood productions here. The look and performances of the film could accomplish that.

Everybody needs to hope for a better story next time. "Wooly Boys" proves that North Dakota has the music for filmmaking. Now it just needs the lyrics.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

Movie Review

"Wooly Boys"

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Century 10

Rated PG

98 minutes

Two and a half out of four stars

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