Celluloid Country: Pure Country, Starring George Strait & Lesley Ann Warren

Juli Thanki | February 12th, 2009

Pure CountryGeorge Strait has a lot going for him: stage presence, rugged good looks, and a great voice. So giving him a fake ponytail and making him the star of a country music movie should be a surefire hit, right? Not when you’ve got an average script, average actors, and a plot line that can be seen from outer space. This is Pure Country, Strait’s first—and hopefully last—feature film.

Strait takes on the starring role of the film as Dusty Wyatt Chandler, a country megastar from his carefully manicured stubble to his snakeskin boots. He delivers a show packed with special effects and loud noises to sold out arenas thanks to the machinations of cougar/manager Lula, who seems to make a habit of nabbing young musicians and making them famous, including her current project, roadie Buddy Jackson.

In the middle of a concert, Dusty decides he’s had enough of the fancy, choreographed stage show Lula has put together. Thus, he heads off to go rediscover his roots thanks to the Yoda-like advice of the elderly Southern grandmother straight from Central Casting. On his journey, he manages to meet a spunky barrel racer named Harley Tucker who is struggling to keep her family’s ranch from being sold. Harley will be competing in a Vegas rodeo, which (thankfully) is on the same day as Dusty’s Vegas concert.

Clean shaven Dusty introduces himself to Harley as “Wyatt,” and thanks to contrivances which only happen in movies, ends up staying at the Tucker ranch. Harley is apparently also as dumb the barrels she rides around, because beside frequenting country bars with omnipresent jukeboxes and hearing “Wyatt” singing on the ranch, she still has no clue as to his real identity until the movie’s final scene, in which Dusty sings a song about eternal love to the woman he has known for maybe a week.

The ranch is saved, Buddy Jackson gets run out of country music, Dusty and Harley reunite with a chaste hug, and the movie ends without denouement and everybody is happy, except maybe the fans who expected an ostentatious Vegas show and got Dusty singing to his girlfriend.

The character of Dusty appears to share much of his everyman personality with Strait, but on camera Strait just appears uncomfortable and outside of his element. This makes sense when Dusty is caught up in the glitz of enormous stage shows, but when he’s back on the ranch, Strait’s lack of acting chops are made painfully obvious. It makes me wonder why someone else wasn’t cast; a good voice can only go so far on film.

Aside from Strait, it’s nice to see a few familiar faces on screen. The role of longtime friend and drummer Earl Blackstock is filled by John Doe of seminal punk band X. The rest of Dusty’s musicians are the members of Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band. Sleazy roadie Buddy Jackson is ably played by current television star Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), though the script doesn’t give him much to do other than look cute and be Dusty’s conniving yet dimwitted antagonist.

The real value of Pure Country comes not in the script, but in the soundtrack. “Heartland” and “I Cross My Heart” both went to Number One on the charts, while “The King of Broken Hearts” has been wonderfully covered by Mark Chesnutt on 1995 album Wings and more recently Lee Ann Womack on 2008’s Call Me Crazy. The soundtrack is also one of the most successful albums of Strait’s career, selling over six million copies. Unfortunately the movie had to come along with it.

If anything, Pure Country teaches us that the struggle between bombastic stage shows and musical purity is one that’s been around for quite some time and isn’t vanishing any time soon. Far too many up and coming young artists are choosing the former at the expense of the latter, making Pure Country equal parts mindless entertainment and pointed warning that sadly is going unheeded.

1 Ping

  1. [...] his big screen film of the same name.  To read more about the film, check out Juli Thanki’s Celluloid Country review at The 9513.  But first, check out Chad’s review for the soundtrack. There’s lots more [...]
  1. Kelly
    February 12, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I always wondered why the family didnt recognize him too, adn was never quite sure how they fell in love during the movie given that they didnt interact on a romantic level very much (did i just write that out loud)…I will say though, that i have always had a soft spot for the soundtrack and think it has stood the test of time well, in my opnion at least.

  2. Barry Mazor
    February 12, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Here’s an idea: Maybe that could run that picture on CMT some time.

  3. Kelly
    February 12, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Good idea, add “Beer for my Horses” to that list, cuz I cant seem to ever catch that one…

  4. tyler w
    February 12, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    how can you not love this movie? i can honestly say it’s one of my top 50 movies (and that’s saying a lot because i’ve seen a ton of movies). sure george strait doesn’t have an ounce of acting skill but he’s such a genuinely heartfelt person that it comes through (even if the acting talent doesn’t). there are a few plot devices that weren’t great but i never miss a chance to catch this on cmt (well, obsviously i can’t watch it every time they play it but i try). i believe part of the love for this movie stems from the soundtrack, for sure, but i still like the movie no matter what.

  5. Razor X
    February 12, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I could not agree more; the only good thing about that film was the soundtrack. Luckily Strait has stuck to music since then, because act he can not.

  6. Paula_W
    February 12, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Razor, Randy Travis was AWFUL on his fist acting gig, but he’s gotten better as he’s had more roles. George could do the same.

  7. Steve Harvey
    February 12, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    King of Broken Hearts makes this picture worthwhile for me – one of Jim Lauderdale’s best songs of his whole career…

  8. Chris N.
    February 12, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Randy Travis played a fist? Was it Chuck Norris’ fist?

  9. David Nisbet, Scotland
    February 12, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    I thought George was great and the film was pretty good. One of the best soundtracks ever as well.

  10. Leeann Ward
    February 12, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Agreed. Poor Strait. It would have been easy to predict that he wouldn’t feel comfortable acting though. I wonder who talked him into that one? Pretty good soundtrack, as you say, but I really hate “Where The Sidewalk Ends” and “Overnight Mail.” They bug me.

  11. Leeann Ward
    February 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Oh yeah, and that kid that sings at the beginning, the young George Strait, is really off key.

  12. Rick
    February 12, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I find this film very enjoyable as a piece of cinematic fluff with a nice soundtrack. My expectations were so low going in that I was pleasantly surprised it didn’t totally suck. The scene where George gets drunk in the dance hall just fractures me, and the parking lot brawl afterwards in the pouring rain was redneck fun at its best. Mindless fun, but fun nonetheless. I felt that the gal who played Harley redeemed the whole shebang. Well to a point anyway.

    The big losers from “Pure Country” were “The Cactus Brothers”. They were the house band in the dance hall and are on stage playing in the background in a few key scenes. They were probably hoping that being included in “Pure Country” would be a springboard to launch their career. The mistake of featuring a lead singer that couldn’t stay on pitch proved problematic, although their hard rock version of “16 Tons” was a hit in Europe. Their self titled debut does contain some interesting songs, but their second album was utter dreck.

  13. Razor X
    February 12, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    “Oh yeah, and that kid that sings at the beginning, the young George Strait, is really off key.”

    Agreed. I always skip that track when I play the CD.

  14. Sam G.
    February 12, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Hey, no knocking the Cactus Brothers! That first album is great. The second one suffers from not having David Schnaufer in the band anymore, but it’s got its share of bright spots and good covers.

    As for the movie, the best part of it is that its soundtrack has probably made Jim Lauderdale a pretty well-off man.

  15. Mike K
    February 12, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    The kid singing at the beginning is George’s real-life son, George Jr. that he calls Bubba. He didn’t sing very well but atleast George has a recording of he and his son from a certain point in their lives. Love the soundtrack and love to laugh at uncomfortable George. “Last in Love” is a personal favorite.

  16. Sheldon
    February 12, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I read that Ricky Van Shelton read for the part as well…anyone else hear that??

  17. Paul W Dennis
    February 12, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    PURE COUNTRY isn’t a great movie , but it wasn’t THAT bad. True,George isn’t much of an actor (did anyone truly expect otherwise ???) but the rest of the cast was okay (or better) and the soundtrack was quite good. I’ve seen it once through and caught bits and pieces of it when it has aired on TV

    Anyway, George always knew where his talents lay, and has stayed there since then

  18. idlewildsouth
    February 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    For my taste, Pure Country is a movie thats so awful, I cant help but like it. Kind of like “8 Seconds”. The acting is piss poor, the script sucks…but in such a horrible way, I love to watch it.

  19. Leeann Ward
    February 13, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Oh yeah, that’s right. I’d forgotten the kid was Strait’s actual son, which makes the singing more baffling.:)

  20. JD
    February 13, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Can’t believe we’re sitting around here criticizing a ten year old kid’s singing in a movie from 17 years ago.

  21. Leeann Ward
    February 13, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Yes, but the kid was a part of the movie and its soundtrack, both of which are the subjects of this piece. Or maybe I’m just defending the shameful discussion since I’m the one who brought it up.:)

  22. Razor X
    February 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Bubba Strait was just way ahead of his time. Who knew back then that one day off-key teens would be a staple on country radio?

  23. J.R. Journey
    February 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    “Bubba Strait was just way ahead of his time. Who knew back then that one day off-key teens would be a staple on country radio.”

    Touche’, Razor.

    And is it just me, or was Toby Keith’s ‘Broken Bridges’ a blatant rip-off of this plot? Sure, there are the obvious differences, but I couldn’t help but think ‘Pure Country’ during the entirety of the first (and last) time I watched ‘Broken Bridges’.

    Spot-on review too.

  24. Josh
    February 16, 2009 at 9:20 am

    I actually didn’t pay much attention to GS’s acting in Pure Country movie, I was just completely surprised by his debuted effort into it since I’ve heard that the man DOES NOT LIKE to act-nor make music videos-for his songs. He considers acting as uncomfortable and unnecessary thing. But then he turns around and stars in a cheesy movie…talk about irony. As for his son singing his song, I’d say that’s just a typical parental-children bond of allowing their children to be heard for the sake of love and family values. So much for the paternal gift of singing…his son sure does look like him quite a bit…that oughta swoon country gals enough just to be attached to the kid. As for my vote of the film: I liked it considerably and really thought the manager actress helped the acting of GS REALLY well. She’s a phenomenal actress who can express herself well unlike many female actress out there.

  25. jasonmichael
    March 11, 2009 at 12:03 am

    C’mon folks…
    George Strait was just fine, acting himself in this film. Anyone who says he can’t act just don’t know him well enough to know that he wasn’t really trying to act – he was just being his cool self.

    This movie is beautifully set at the ranch. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to how the couple works out life after the big revelation, and his little song at the end. The sound track definitely got better toward the end of the film.

    Lots of fun .. a good chic flick date movie, and that’s what it was intended to be. It works out to that wnd, perfectly. You really can’t critique this movie from any other perspective, or you’ll miss the point of it and be disappointed.

  26. Hubba
    March 24, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    It’s funny that someone brought up “8 Seconds,” the big brother to “Pure Country.”
    I hadn’t seen either, and I used a horrible blizzard to watch both in the same afternoon.
    I guess I survived the blizzard.

  27. Jay
    June 9, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Pure Country was a pretty good movie and the soundtrack was really good too. George did a good enough job acting, considering the part he played (he was very uncomfortable with the whole backstage and onstage show, but seemed to be comforable on the riding on the ranch and performing on stage. Besides, if he seemed uncomforable at other times in the film it may have been intentional since he was falling in love and he almost ‘lost his job’ after missing his show.)
    Pure country might not be the best movie around, but compaired to the other junk out there Pure Country isn’t that bad; I mean everyone in the movie did fine job acting and the story made a simple yet relavent point: Be True to Your Self.

    The band was great, the Cactus Brothers are lucky for the fame this movie helped bring them, and Bubba was alright for his age (I always thought that his singing was not meant to be good, but be honest and PURE, and it was juxtaposed with the concert version to show te change from love of music {despite ability} – to exploitation of ability {regardless of the music}.)

    And By the way, she is no Patsy Clien or Martina McBride but come on leave Taylor Swift out of this ‘Razor’ we’re discussing a movie and its soundtrack, not critiquing country music today.

    Last, but not least:

    Why would anyone sit down and wright an article trashing a movie that was made about 17 (SEVENTEEN) Years Ago. Why not write about a movie that you do like and would recommend, or a new movie, rather than dig up a 17 year old movie to attack.

  28. Trish
    December 6, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    This movie is terrific, you want to watch it just for the end of it. Anyone that thinks this movie is nothing other than “heartfelt” great is not watching the movie with love in the air.

  29. danls
    May 9, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    i like the movie a lot.each actor was pretty much right on as to there looks,talking and actions.watched it 6 times in two days.only after dusty took a walk

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