The Cowboy Way
Release Date: June 3, 1994
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kiefer Sutherland, Dylan McDermott
SW Grade: Worse Than a Surprise C-section
A fish out of water tale. That’s what people in the film industry call the type of story that takes a character and places him or her into an environment totally foreign—and often comically strange—to them. It worked wonderfully in Crocodile Dundee. Aussie Paul Hogan never looked or sounded more whacky than while walking down the back alleys of NYC in a leather vest and smile. It worked even better in Back to the Future. Michael J. Fox kissing his mom? What will they think of next? And don’t even get me started on Sylvester Stallone and Estelle Getty in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
Released in 1994, The Cowboy Way is yet another fine example of the “fish out of water” approach to filmmaking. The fish: two rodeo cowboys. The foreign environment: New York City. I know, I know. Cue the never-ending comedy.
Please don’t misunderstand. I respect cowboys immensely. Growing up, I cannot remember a time when my father wasn’t engrossed in a Louis Lamoure book—most often while sitting on the ol’ porcelain throne. For a brief period—sandwiched between dreams of being a fireman and an inventory product analyst for Dayton-Hudson Corporation—all I could envision myself becoming was a cowboy.
The population of Cumberland, Wisconsin consisted of zero cowboys—at least none that I knew of. Lester Kinzer—a 60-year-old vagrant who smoked Virginia Slims and wore his shirts inside-out—was the closest thing I could find to John Wayne. The way I saw it, I would have almost no competition in my hometown.
It didn’t help that the only movies shown on the three television stations we received in my house were cowboy flicks. In a situation similar to the torture scene in A Clockwork Orange, I was force-fed John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies as part of my rearing. Watching these classic westerns, I obtained a ten-gallon hat’s worth of knowledge on the intricacies of being a cowboy. Here are a few:
- The bad guy only gets six shots from his six-shooter, while the good guy gets up to thirty-two.
- A deputy can never be trusted to be left in charge of a prisoner at the local jail. He’ll find a way to fuck it all up, and easy escape is sure to follow.
- Odds are anyone using a match as a toothpick will eventually use that very match to light one or more sticks of dynamite.
But even armed with those important cowboy facts, I was taken aback when I realized I had so much more to learn about these great icons of America’s past. That’s where I found The Cowboy Way to be so helpful.
The Way is about three friends whose names can be put together to create a sentence you may, or may not, have heard at your local Taco Bell—“You want some Pepper on those Nachos, Sonny?”
Pepper and Sonny are played by Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland, respectively. Think of these two as the comedy duo for the everyman—in other words, every man will hate the shit out of them.
Pepper and Sonny leave behind their rodeo ways to travel to New York City in search of their friend Nacho. Nacho—despite years of being mistakenly covered by hot cheese and jalapenos—makes the trek to NYC to pick up his freshly emigrated daughter Theresa. I know what you’re thinking. It’s difficult to think about cowboys and New York City without thinking back to the Pace Picanté commercials of the ‘80s. “New York City! Get the rope.” Then on top of that, you throw in a character named “Nacho.” Something tells me the studio executives were going after the salsa demographic.
Turns out, Theresa has been working in a Kathy Lee Gifford-like sweatshop since her arrival on our beloved shores, and Nacho is none too happy about it. He approaches John Stark, the head honcho of the sweatshop operation (played by Dylan McDermott) and demands his daughter be released from her non-exclusive lifetime contract. Stark is turned off by Nacho’s broken English and the chunks of chives and ground beef between his teeth and decides to end Nacho’s brief reign as America’s favorite appetizer.
Upon hearing of Nacho’s untimely demise, Sonny and Pepper make a b-line to the big city only to find that “folks in these parts do things a bit different.” They team up with 90’s rap duo Salt ‘n Peppa (minus Spinderella) to find Theresa and bring down John Stark’s sweaty underworld.
I really shouldn’t have to tell you any more than what I’ve already revealed. If you can’t guess that these country bumpkins turn the city folks’ heads, track down clues in a zany and outrageous fashion, and win in the end, then I guess I’d just prefer you say ‘thank you’ and be on your way. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!
Fuck, Jack was awesome in A Few Good Men!
Meanwhile, back at The Way, Kiefer Sutherland—when speaking in a southern accent—sounds curiously similar to Geri, the comedian with cerebral palsy from Facts of Life. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it might not be a good career move for Mr. Sutherland to ever again attach himself to any movie that could even remotely be considered a comedy. There is a good chance that people might then expect him to make them laugh. To tell you the truth, though, watching that scruffy bastard ride through the city on a horse did kind of make me laugh. Sure, it was because I was embarrassed for him, his family, and any household pets in their care at the time of the film’s release, but I still laughed.
Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, hasn’t made me laugh since he went down on that brown-tooth freak of a woman in Kingpin. I don’t know what is more stomach-turning, the afore-mentioned act or listing the movies on Woody’s resume. But I tend to forgive him, mostly due to the fact that the half-life on his laughs from Cheers is about 30-million years.
The other thespians from the Way received mixed reviews from this critic. Dylan McDermott’s villain—while attractive and very huggable—had me about as intimidated as a 48-year-old Harry Potter fan. Joaquin Martinez failed to reach the emotional intensity one comes to expect from a character named Nacho. And Francie Swift (as the desk clerk at the Waldorf Astoria) didn’t have me believing that she could reset a room key card should a patron misplace one.
William “Bill” Wittliff is responsible for the screenplay of the Way. I find it intriguing that if you say Bill’s last name really, really fast ten times, it starts to sound like “witless.” Coincidence? I wonder. Directing credits go to Gregg Champion. Note the three g’s in the spelling of his first name. I’d bet my paycheck that when he introduces himself at parties he says, “That’s Gregg with three g’s.” This guy ticks me off. Put Witless and Gregg with three G’s together and what do you get? You get a movie about a search for Nachos.
“Get the rope.”