Celluloid Country: Rhinestone, Starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone

Juli Thanki | December 5th, 2008

RhinestoneI love Dolly Parton with a love that borders on idolatry. But Rhinestone (1984) is just plain bad. It’s certainly not 9 to 5, a film I consider to be Parton’s Citizen Kane. It’s not even cheesy fun like Straight Talk, a film which sees Parton—again in the role of hillbilly sage who delivers bits of rural wisdom to clueless city dwellers—stumble into a Frasier Crane meets Oprah Winfrey radio gig while supported by a cast that includes Jerry Orbach, Michael Madsen, and James Woods. This movie is horrible, so bad that it “won” two Razzies (the un-award for cinematic abominations) and was nominated for several others. It’s 111 minutes of my life that I will (unfortunately) never get back.

Rhinestone starts with a musical montage showing New York City at night while Dolly Parton sings about how she’s just a country girl with the “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Do you get the ironic juxtaposition of the city lights and Dolly’s down-home charm? DO YOU?! If not, don’t worry–the very unsubtle nature of this wacky city/country contrast will be seared into your brain by the end of the movie.

Anyway, it turns out Dolly is actually Jake, a good ol’ gal gigging at a country bar (The Rhinestone) while she’s stuck under the thumb of her lecherous, kimono-wearing Svengali manager, Freddie (Ron Lieman). Long story short, a contrived argument turns into a wager in which Jake has two weeks to turn an Average Joe into a country singer in order to get out of her contract. If she fails, creepy Freddie gets to sleep with her.

Who should show up at that very moment but one Nick Martinelli (Stallone), the most stereotypical New York cabbie ever. (A horrible driver, he lives above his parents’ funeral home, where he eats a lot of spaghetti.) Nick (of course) agrees to this stupid bet, and thus becomes the Eliza Doolittle to Jake’s sassy Henry Higgins.

After some non-witty non-banter, the gruesome twosome head down to Jake’s hometown of Leipers Fork, Tennessee, a backwoods town that makes Aintry, Georgia look like Paris. In order to make Nick a bona fide country singer, Jake and her father (Richard Farnsworth, seriously slumming it after appearing in films such as Gone With the Wind and Blazing Saddles) teach him all those things a country boy needs to know: horseback ridin’, hillbilly dancin’, country eatin’, and other folksy, “g”-less gerunds.

In the world of Rhinestone, all you need to be a country singer is new clothes, some folksy aphorisms, and a few days below the Mason-Dixon. Art imitating life, or vice versa? You be the judge.

Things are looking up for Nick when he makes friends with Bennett Cole, a vaguely homeless-looking barfly who turns out to sing country music in the town’s only bar. But wait—it turns out that Bennett is Jake’s ex-fiancé. How unexpected.

Nick and Jake eventually sleep together in her daddy’s house, and shortly thereafter they go back to New York and have to deal with gross Freddie and the stupid bet. Trouble ensues. I don’t want to spoil this cinematic masterpiece, but I will say that this is the type of trouble that apparently can only be solved by Nick riding a horse through the streets of New York.

It all leads up to Nick’s big debut at The Rhinestone, a scene that is worth watching if only for the absolutely bonkers “country” attire worn by Stallone. There are drag queens running sequinless around New York City to this day because of Nick’s selfishness. Remember that pinhole camera you made in second grade in order to watch a solar eclipse? You best find it, lest you hold The 9513 responsible for any retinal scarring that may occur.

Nick gets onstage to sing, and you can probably imagine the rest, because not one iota of this film deviated from the standard romantic comedy about two opposites and their antagonistic relationship that eventually blossoms into true love.

But on to the good parts. Well, good part. Dolly Parton’s music. Parton wrote all of the project’s music—here she’s credited as a Music Supervisor along with Mike Post, he of NYPD Blue and Law & Order fame—and like several of her other films, the sole redeeming quality of the movie is her singing. When she duets with Nick, Stallone’s guttural hollers are (thankfully) completely overshadowed. The moments where Stallone has to tackle Parton’s lyrics solo (the admittedly abysmal “Drunkenstein,” a song which I believe was written to be intentionally bad, because there can be no other explanation for this misstep) are sung with all the charisma of a dying moose.

  1. Paula_W
    December 5, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Why would you spend time and energy reviewing something that you dont even like – especially since it is 24 years old? Reviewing current items negatively is one thing, but this sounds more like a rant than a review to me.

  2. Chris N.
    December 5, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Because atrocities such as these must not be forgotten by society.

  3. Austin
    December 5, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    I thought that “Rhinestone” was bad is common knowledge?

    Oh well. Nice review and I loved the Citizen Kane analogy.

  4. Matt C.
    December 5, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Because it’s a new feature. See Brody’s fancy graphic at the top?

  5. Jim Malec
    December 5, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    It’s not a review–it’s a column. That’s why you will not find the word “review” on any part of this page.
    Anyway, I think Juli did a fantastic job on this.

  6. J.R. Journey
    December 5, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Great read. But Dolly’s ex was named ‘Barnett Cale’ not Bennett Cole. I guess I’ve seen this thing too many times since I know that …

  7. Juli
    December 5, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    J.R. After reviewing the DVD (you’ll be hearing from my therapist about this), it turns out that you are right, though IMDB spells it Barnett Kale. Thanks for the correction! How have you watched this film so many times and not lost the will to live? Truly, you are a stronger person than I.

    Anyway, I hope you folks out there dig this new feature. There are some really great movies out there starring or about country stars…and a whole lotta bad ones. I’ll be writing about both kinds here. Also: nice work on the graphic, Brody!

  8. Leeann Ward
    December 5, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Juli, I dig your work. I’ve really been enjoying your articles here. I haven’t seen this movie to make an informed comment about it though. I’ll take your word for it, I think.

  9. Rick
    December 5, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Wow, does this mean the “Smokey and the Bandit” movies are next because of Jerry Reed! WooHoo! (lol)

    This is a fun feature and its nice to give the columnists freedom to do something different. I mean I can only bag on Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwear for so long before exhaustion sets in! Juli, I’m looking forward to future installments.

    PS – Don’t forget Waylon Jennings narration and ballad singing in the late 60’s film “Ned Kelly” that featured Mick Jagger as the Aussie bandit/folk hero. This movie did give rise to the band name “Reckless Kelly” after all.

  10. Mike Parker
    December 5, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    I make it a point to watch this at least once every 8-10 years. So bad it’s good kind of funny to me.

  11. Leeann Ward
    December 5, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Is there a soundtrack for Straight Talk? I remember liking the song back when I watched the movie a million years ago, but I was like twelve then. Would I even still like it now?

  12. Razor X
    December 5, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Yes, there is a soundtrack. The highlight is a re-recording of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” I have to be honest, I haven’t listened to this album in its entirety in a long, long time. It’s not bad, but it’s not my favorite Dolly album by a long stretch.

  13. Rainbow
    December 5, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    The rerecording of “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning” is nothing compared to the original.

  14. Leeann Ward
    December 5, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I may have to buy it from Amazon then. I’ve only looked in the digital section and didn’t find it there.

  15. Sheldon
    December 6, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Rhinestone may have been a flop, but it might have came along just when Dolly needed it most…She was in bad physical and emotional shape in those days, and she often credits Stallone for setting her on the right path physically.
    LeeAnn, make sure you check out the Straight Talk soundtrack – while I agree with Razor X, its not my favorite Dolly cd, it has some bright spots – more pop sounding than what she had just done – she had out “Eagle When She Flies” album at the time (Which, was originally written to be used in ’89’s “Steel magnolias”)
    “Wild Texas Wind” with Gary Busey remains one of my favorite Dolly movies (this one an NBC movie of the week) from the early 90s as well – and next to impossible to find on VHS or DVD. Its her most dramatic role – Dolly gets beat up, thrown in the slammer, and sings – not in that order…

  16. Nashville4U
    December 7, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Never seen this movie and probably even if I saw the cover I would pass it up easily. And anyways who cares if it is a rant or a review or whatever, if something sucks then it sucks when it was made and can suck 20 years later. The review/column might save someone an hour or so of their life.

  17. JD
    December 7, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Sure looks like a review to me.

  18. Rick
    December 7, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Is this like the countrified version of “Leonard Pinth Garnell’s Bad Cinema” reviews by Dan Akroyd in the early days of Saturday Night Live? Considering how horrid most movies are that feature country artists, it seems appropriate. (lol)

    Speaking of horrid movies featuring country singers, I caught a couple minutes of “Beer For My Horses” on CMT the other night and had to change the channel quick. Toby the Ego has made a movie that’s a caricature of movies that were originally designed to be caricatures themselves of redneck/hick/hillbilly culture! At least the “Dukes of Hazzard” movie debacle had pretty women to look at!

    How about in one of these features we 9513er’s are asked to name our favorite country music related movies apart from the great Bio-pics that have been made for the likes of Loretta Lynn and Johhny Cash. My vote goes to “Tender Mercies” without hesitation.

  19. CMW
    December 7, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Really entertaining piece, Juli.

    I just read about Tim McGraw’s affection for “Tender Mercies” in Country Weekly. Looks like you guys have something in common, Rick.

  20. Daniel
    February 16, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    There are so many bad movies worth watching–Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and Kung Pao, for example–that it’s a shame to waste time on one that is bad and not even worth the effort.

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