God, I don’t understand family films. I’m sure there must be an audience for them; they appear almost weekly and usually make scads of money. But that doesn’t make the appeal any less perplexing. Aside from the occasional Spielberg flick (which hardly counts), I sure as hell didn’t watch these films growing up as part of a family unit (Nate and Hayes, notwithstanding), and I sure as hell wouldn’t subject any of my children to them. You’ve gotta have a small amount of disdain for your offspring to put them through films about bonding with horses, talking animals, surfing penguins, and magic jeans. At least My Girl had a valuable lesson: Don’t fuck with bee’s nests. And I’ll even admit that last year’s Because of Winn-Dixie was wholesomely sweet and altogether harmless, a film so earnest and free of cynicism that even the most contemptuous hipsters couldn’t disparage its intentions.
But when you put yourself through four years of college, three years of law school, and then anoint yourself a film critic and convince a handful of people that you know what the hell you’re talking about, it’s easy to question those choices when you wind up watching a film like Flicka. And it’s not really that I didn’t like it because I’m not a 12-year-old princess with bows in my hair, or that I’m not a Lester Burnham kind of guy who’d love nothing more than to have sex with his daughter’s friends (the primary demographic for Flicka, I can only imagine). It’s that Flicka is a movie about a motherfucking horse. A horse, people. What preteen wants to sit for 90 minutes and watch an entire film that revolves around a wild mustang, and what kind of parent would want to suffer through it? Surely there aren’t any tweenage girls left who dream of growing up to be a rancher? Or want to break the will of a wild horse, saddle it, and relegate it to a lifetime of oats and the occasional rodeo? Hasn’t the American Humane Association filtered its way down into the middle-school ranks yet? It’s not that I’m an avid horse enthusiast, but any organization that might prevent a travesty like Flicka from being foisted into the theaters is an organization I’m willing to stand behind (and two horses did die tragically during filming).
Whatever. I’m sure there are fans of Mary O’Hara’s novel who are still alive, and/or father-daughters with weird, passive-aggressive controlling relationships that might find Flicka oddly relatable. And to anyone who wants to spend an afternoon watching panoramic Wyoming plains (here played by New Zealand) with horses running through them or Maria Bello and Alison Lohman frolicking through a meadow, Flicka is your film. But to any other families who might find it disturbing that a 27-year-old woman — who once appeared in a ménage a trois with Kevin Bacon in an NC-17 film — is playing an innocent 16-year-old rancher in a film about a horse, then I beckon you to sit down with your children and watch a more worthwhile film, say, 1996’s classic Hulk Hogan family film, Santa with Muscles.
Aside from being a film about a horse, Flicka is about Katy (Lohman), a 16-year-old who daydreams about horsies so much that she flunks out of her private school. But never mind that, she wants to be a rancher, anyhow. And when she returns home for the summer, she ventures out into the plains and finds a wild mustang (Flicka), who scares away a mountain lion. And what better way to win over the heart of a teenager?
So, Katy eventually manages to wrangle Flicka and bring it back to the ranch, where it just scares all the other horses away and hacks off her mustangophobic father, Rob (Tim McGraw), who refers to Flicka as “loco” enough to probably get him fired as a Fox baseball announcer. Rob is an angry man, having — apparently — tired of singing, “I Like It, I Love It,” every Monday for an entire football season. He’s pissed because his daughter flunked out, he’s pissed because of that goddamn horse (me too!), and he’s pissed (I assume) because there aren’t any stairwell sex scenes with Maria Bello, so he naturally takes it out on Katy. He’s totally a “my house, my rules,” kind of father and eventually gets so fed up with Flicka and Katy’s shenanigans that he sends the horse off to the rodeo.
Unfortunately, McGraw isn’t much of an actor. In fact, on a scale of country singers who cross over into acting — where Dwight Yoakum is at the top — McGraw falls somewhere around Ray Stevens’ appearance on “Hee Haw” (The one where he sang “Mississippi Squirrel Revival”). Anyway, Katy, clearly unhappy with the situation, rubs some charcoal on her face, dons a cowboy hat, and pulls a “Twelfth Night” in order to win her mustang back by riding Flicka in the wild horse competition, which leads to an unexpected result: Katy is thrown from the horse, Flicka stomps her to death, and Luke Perry runs in off the set of 8 Seconds and shoots the equine to save the day. Actually, that last part was just in my head, but it would’ve offered a far more entertaining ending than the one we’re given, which involves the reappearance of that mountain lion, a 105-degree fever, and Tim McGraw trying his damndest to convince us he’s weeping.
Written by the team that scripted Planet of the Apes and Mighty Joe Young (arguably, a film about apes may be as bad as one about a horse) and cobbled together by Michael Mayer to look like an extended Doublemint commercial without the sexual undertones, Flicka may not be the worst family film I’ve seen in a while, but the competition isn’t exactly fierce in a genre dominated by Tim Allen. And that’s why I’m looking so forward to The Santa Claus 3: The Escape Clause (14 days and counting!), because then I’ll finally get to see a family film that’ll rival Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny as the worst of all time.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
She Sure as Hell Ain't My Friend
Flicka / Dustin Rowles
Film | October 20, 2006 | Comments ()