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