MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5)
Peter Fonda as STONEY
Kris Kristofferson as SHUCK
Joseph Mazzello as CHARLES
Keith Carradine as SHERIFF DAWSON
Robin Dearden as KATE HARPER
Studio: Lion’s Gate
Directed by: Leszek Burzynski
BY KEVIN CARR
“Wooly Boys” is a recent DVD release of the independent film from 2001. The first thing I noticed about this film was its look. Independent films – even ones that star a known cast – can be tricky to shoot. It’s difficult to give them style without getting in the way of the story. By using subtle tones, “Wooly Boys” manages to do this. Of course it helps having the backdrop of your film be the beautiful Badlands.
The story follows a reclusive North Dakota sheep farmer named Stoney (Peter Fonda) who looks forward to a birthday card from his daughter. However, when she doesn’t send one this year, he hops a bus to Minneapolis to check up on her. Once in the big city, we discover Stoney’s sick and probably dying.
His daughter Kate (Robin Dearden) commits him to the hospital under his protests. Fortunately for him, his fellow sheep farmer Shuck (Kris Kristofferson) comes down to spring him and return him home. Strung along with them is Stoney’s grandson Charles (Joseph Mazzello), a pampered kid who hasn’t seen his grandfather in almost a decade. On a race back home to save their family farm, Charles and Stoney discover a family bond that they’ve been missing all these years.
When I first saw the trailer to “Wooly Boys,” I thought it bore a striking resemblance to “Secondhand Lions,” a movie that I loved. However, instead of developing a relationship with a city boy and two old coots over the course of a summer, “Wooly Boys” manages to do it in a weekend.
Sure, a lot of the plot devices I’ve seen before. Billy Crystal helped a cow give birth to a calf more than a decade ago in “City Slickers.” So when Charles helps deliver a lamb ironically named Chili Meat, I wasn’t terribly surprised. But most of what happens in the film works well in context.
In fact, “Wooly Boys” surprisingly kept my attention throughout. It had some predictability and some wonky characterization, but the film was fairly well executed. Even Kris Kristofferson, who isn’t terribly compelling, does an excellent job as the crotchety old man. In fact, he upstages Peter Fonda through most of the picture.
You may or may not recognize Joe Mazzello, who is the weak link in the cast, as the little kid from the first “Jurassic Park.” He’s grown up since 1993, and he’s got a lot of work to bounce off of veterans like Kristofferson and Fonda.
The biggest strength of “Wooly Boys” is that it manages to be a fine family film without sacrificing story. It’s not forced into this role, but rather just is. Too often films are planned as a family film but end up pulling their punches with their stronger material. “Wooly Boys” just tells its story, which happens to be free from a lot of offensive material.
Sure, it opens with Shuck doing his business in an open field. And while I love bathroom humor as much as (perhaps more than) the next guy, there are a lot better ways you can start a picture than with Kris Kristofferson squatting and farting. But the film cleans up quickly and actually delivers a bit of tenderness in its own right.
You won’t see “Wooly Boys” win any awards. It’s not nearly as dark and gritty enough to catch the eye of many critics and award hounds. But it isn’t a bad choice for a modern western that you can watch with the kids.
In the end, a bit of “Wooly Boys” hit close to home with me. I grew up in the suburbs of a large city. I wasn’t exactly pampered, but I was definitely a city boy. In my youth, I spent some time on my family’s farms in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, so I’ve seen the disdain they have for us city folk. I know how hard it is to fit in sometimes.
But I also know how quickly they open their hearts to us when we actually give them the chance.
Specifications: Dolby Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1). Spanish subtitles.