(20th Century Fox) Tim McGraw, Maria Bello, Allison Lohman, Ryan Kwanten, Daniel Pino, Dallas Roberts, Kaylee DeFer, Jeffrey Nordling, Dey Young, Nick Searcy, Buck Taylor. Directed by Michael Mayer.
I guess it would be easy to take shots at a movie I was loathe to see in the first place, but Da Queen insisted because she’s a huge Tim McGraw fan and loves the song (“My Little Girl”) that serves as kind of a theme song for the movie and so I went, grumbling and complaining. Da Queen was adamant I go into the movie with an open mind, so I did my best, but I have seen My Friend Flicka and as much as I liked Roddy MacDowell in it, I didn’t have much hope for the modern remake.
Kate (Lohman) is a free-spirited teenager who just doesn’t fit in at the expensive private school she attends. She may be there physically but her mind and her soul are far away on the western Wyoming mountain ranges, where her father’s (McGraw) horse ranch is. So centered on it is she that during an important English final, she writes not a single word down on her paper.
When she goes home, it is with a heavy heart. She has been asked to leave the school and she knows her dad will hit the roof when he finds out. Still, she hopes her mother (Bello) and her sympathetic brother Howard (Kwanten) might run some interference for her. In the meantime, she sets out on a dawn ride into the mountains to clear her head, avoid her dad and maybe think up a way to break the news.
While she’s in the mountains, she encounters a mountain lion, causing her horse to throw her and leave her behind. She also encounters a magnificent wild mustang who saves her from the mountain lion before running off. Excited, she scampers back home, breathlessly telling her family and the laconic hands Gus (Roberts) and Jack (Pino) about what happened. Trouble is, her father knows about her problems at school. See, there are these things called fax machines that work pretty much anywhere there’s a telephone line, and they have plenty of those, even in the mountains.
To say Kate and her father are at odds with each other is putting it mildly. She still is a bit of a daydreamer, only now her focus is on that mustang she saw. While the men are out herding the…herd, she sets out to flush the mustang out and by gaw she does just that. Her father manages to capture the spirited mustang and pens her up. Kate names her Flicka, which is apparently Swedish for “pretty girl” (or so Gus says).
Kate feels an intense bond between her and the mustang, and means to ride it, but the mustang is having none of that. Her father leaves strict orders that nobody is to go into the pen with the wild creature, but Kate willfully disobeys, trying to gain the trust of the horse. Eventually she does, but the horse gets spooked and runs off with Kate aboard…well, briefly.
Her father is furious. Her daughter is disobeying direct orders and putting herself in jeopardy. Taking care of the problem is simplicity itself; he sells the wild horse to a rodeo owner (Searcy) who is making a killing on wild mustang races. Such an inconvenience isn’t enough to stop Kate. She determines to ride Flicka in the race at the rodeo. The prize money would be enough for her to buy Flicka back, and then the horse would truly be hers. Of course, things go terribly awry…
This is based on a classic children’s novel, as I said, and if Mary O’Hara were around today, she’d be kicking somebody’s backside – real hard, too. As I remember it, the lessons that came out of the original book had to do with respecting nature, remembering always that your family loves you no matter what and believing in yourself even when nobody else believes in you. The last part Kate has down pretty much from the get-go. Lohman plays Kate as a kid who is mule-headed, obsessive, whiny and bad-tempered. She’s supposed to be spirited, but comes off being arrogant, selfish and flat-out petulant. Eventually, of course, her passion wins over her father in the movie but in real life, her passion would win her an appointment behind the woodshed. At least, I think they still have woodsheds in Wyoming. They’re pretty much gone everywhere else.
Since I can’t get behind the main character, I have to get behind the parents, and if someone told me back in the day I’d be identifying with the parents over the teenager, I’d let loose a loud, piercing shriek and faint dead away on the spot. Afterwards, I’d regain consciousness, get up and get behind Mary O’Hara in line. Be that as it may, I have to admit – and the next sound you’ll hear is Da Queen letting out a triumphant squeal – that Tim McGraw does a much better job than I expected him to. In fact, he really does carry the movie and acts more as the emotional center, which isn’t easy when he has to play the stern disciplinarian and hard-headed father figure. Still, he pulls it off and quite frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised – if you’ll recall, he did a superb job in Friday Night Lights too.
Maria Bello as the long-suffering mom spends most of the movie acting as a mediator and urging her husband to “talk to her!!!” It’s not a great role, and quite frankly its written mainly to present a picture of a stable two-parent family; otherwise, she really doesn’t have much to do but make pancakes. There is a nice scene where she and her husband go riding where you get a glimpse of what lies inside the character, but those moments are fleeting indeed; I don’t blame Bello, who does a credible job, but the writing which was kind of lazy and cliché.
It has to be said that they got the location right; the vistas of the western Wyoming mountain ranges are magnificent and you get a sense of why these people love this land so dern much. Unfortunately, much of the action doesn’t live up to the scenery it takes place in. I went through this movie feeling flat and unmoved. Granted, this is clearly aimed at tweener girls and their moms, but a better movie would have involved those not tweeners, girls or from the Rockies. This isn’t terrible, mind you. It’s just mediocre.
WHY RENT THIS: Tim McGraw gives a surprisingly good performance and proves himself to be a credible actor as the true emotional center of the film. Spectacular Wyoming vistas make this easy on the eyes.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is aimed squarely at tweener girls and their moms and if you are neither you may not find anything worthwhile here. Alison Lohman’s Kate is written as spoiled more than spirited.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing that I wouldn’t keep a young pre-teen girl from seeing.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The part of “Kate” in the book was actually male, and was named Ken. Roddy McDowell played him in the best-known movie adaptation, My Friend Flicka (1943).
NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 4/10