The Cowboy Way (1994) review-saddle up for some mediocrity

Despite what you might have heard, fish-out-of-water comedies are not easy to put together, especially when elements like class are involved.

Push too hard in one direction and you’re an elitist prick making fun of poor people. Go too far in the other direction and you come across as an uncultured swine whose worldview is severely limited.

But throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Hollywood directors managed to take that potentially volatile formula and wring some genuine hits out of it, like Crocodile Dundee (1986) and City Slickers (1991).

While the plot of these movies vary, a lot of the same elements are always at play, where the filmmakers try to find some common ground between urban and rural communities, all the while playing the differences up for laughs.

Even though Gregg Champion’s The Cowboy Way (1994) checks a lot of those same boxes, it just didn’t resonate with audiences the same way, garnering poor box office returns and an even less impressive critical reception (currently holding a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes).

And after viewing it for the first time almost three decades later, it’s easy to see why this action-comedy isn’t fondly remembered by movie-goers, since the script never rises above the emotional maturity of a Saturday-morning cartoon.

Kiefer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson star as the eponymous cowboys; two life-long friends and rodeo stars who travel from New Mexico to New York City to rescue their missing friend and his daughter.

Once the pair arrive in the Big Apple, they discover that their friend has gotten mixed up with some human traffickers who aren’t squeamish about tying up loose ends.

And just like the movie’s title suggests, Sutherland and Harrelson must use their rugged nature to save the day, even though they spend way more time fighting with each other than the bad guys.

That exhausting back-and-forth dynamic is part of why The Cowboy Way doesn’t work for me, since I didn’t really buy the central relationship between the two leads.

With very few exceptions, they spend the entire runtime of the movie at each other’s throats, arguing over everything from past misdeeds to how they should navigate the strange concrete jungle of New York.

Not only did this constant bickering get annoying after a while, but it seriously made me question why these two men have been friends their entire lives if they can’t stand one another.

I get that character-based conflict is the lifeblood of any good “buddy cop” movie, but in this case the filmmakers pushed it way too far and didn’t provide any real levity between the two until the very end of the movie.

Plus, establishing this level of hostility between Harrelson and Sutherland seems like a lazy way to manufacture conflict, especially since the duo are going up against a literal human trafficking ring.  

The script also fails when it comes to delivering on the fish-out-of-water comedy, since a lot of the jokes are entirely surface-level.

Admittedly, this “east meets west” premise had a lot of potential, since the push and pull of modernity and traditionalism is a classic American story that has already served as the foundation for a lot of memorable westerns.

But the best material that the writers of The Cowboy Way could come up with out of this set-up is on the same level as a struggling stand-up comic.

In other words, a lot of this film’s humour stems from simple cultural misunderstandings or Sutherland and Harrelson gawking at a bunch of New York City weirdos.

It’s not like this brand of comedy is automatically dead on arrival, but the parade of snooty waiters, quirky shopkeepers and high-fashion models on display all seem like cardboard cutouts.

The one exception to this trend is Ernie Hudson, who plays a NYPD Mounted Unit officer who helps the titular cowboys get a lay of the land.

Outside of acting like a real person for a change, Hudson’s horseback lawman also serves as a nice bridge between the urban-rural divide that dominates the movie on a thematic level.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t seem interested in meaningfully exploring that idea beyond this one side character, opting instead for inane side-plots like when Harrelson accidently becomes the new face of Calvin Klein.

A lot of this could be forgiven if maybe the villains were at least interesting, but The Cowboy Way comes up short in that respect as well.

Dylan McDermott’s main bad guy is suitably menacing but lacks any sort of depth, while a talented actor like Luis Guzmán gets even less to do as a generic henchman.

These characters also represent the movie’s larger problem with tone, since the severity of their respective fates don’t line up with the filmmakers’ intentions.

For example, Guzmán’s character is subjected to genital mutilation in the later half of the movie when the “good guys” need to extract information from him using a baby cow.

While the acting and cinematography in this scene suggest a comedic tone, it’s hard to detach yourself from the unmistakably grizzly nature of what’s happening on screen.

Meanwhile, McDermott’s demise (SPOILERS) at the end of the film is gut-bustingly hilarious, even though I’m sure that’s not what the director was going for.

Here’s a free tip for any would-be directors out there: if you’re going to replace one of your actors with a dummy for a “serious” death scene, make sure you don’t linger on that shot for almost 10 whole seconds.

Despite all these glaring flaws, Harrelson and Sutherland still manage to keep the movie afloat through their sheer charisma alone.

The pair have natural chemistry despite being saddled with a poor script, and do come across as being believable modern cowboys instead of Hollywood actors playing dress-up.

It’s also refreshing to see Sutherland play a character who is way more calm and level-headed, although my praise may be a byproduct of me watching all nine seasons of 24.

But outside of these two appealing leads, The Cowboy Way never really capitalizes on its premise, with the fish-out-water element serving as window dressing and nothing more.

By the time the credits roll, all you really learn about being a cowboy is that you need to shoot first and ask questions later, which is how most 90s action heroes operate anyway.

If you’re looking for a more cerebral take on what it means to be a cowboy in the present day, you’d have better luck reading the novels of Cormac McCarthy or even watching modern professional wrestling.



Corner store companion:

Pull N’ Peel Twizzlers (because you can use it to fashion your own lasso … partner)

Fun facts:

-Release date: June 3, 1994

-Budget: $35 million (estimated)

-Box office: $20,280,016

-After finishing his work on The Cowboy Way, director Gregg Champion worked in television for the rest of his career, helming episodes for series like The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000) and made-for-TV movies like The Last Brickmaker in America (2001).

Surprise cameo: Allison Janney briefly pops up midway through the film as a nameless NYPD computer operator who helps the main characters locate their missing friend.

Musical highlight: “Good Guys Don’t Always Wear White” by Jon Bon Jovi (plays over the end credits)

The Perfect Man (2005) review-rotten to the core

Sometimes, a movie fails because of poor execution, where a good idea on paper isn’t successfully translated to the screen.

Mark Rosman’s The Perfect Man has an entirely different problem, since its foundational premise is completely faulty and causes the rest of the film to collapse in on itself.

This romantic comedy stars 2000s teen idol Hillary Duff as Holly, a young girl who is tired of having to move across the country every time her mom (Heather Locklear) breaks up with her current boyfriend.

When the family relocates to New York City, Holly vows to find her mom [insert movie title here], even if she has to conjure such a person out of thin air.

So, under the tutelage of a local restaurant owner (Chris Noth), this plucky teenage begins writing her own mother love letters in the hopes of keeping her happy and staying in one location for a longer period of time.

I’m sure you’ve already picked out the massive flaws in this premise, but I’ll spell it out anyway.

For one thing, the movie tries to position Locklear as a relatable single mom who is simply unlucky in love and just doing her best to raise her girls (Duff also has a younger sister played by Aria Wallace).


It would have been way more understandable if Locklear’s character lost her job, giving her at least a financial incentive to uproot her daughters and force them to severe their current friendships.

But no. She just has a terrible taste in men and her children must suffer the consequences, apparently.

And it’s not like this has happened only one or two times either. The film establishes early on that Duff’s character regularly updates a travel blog that details her every move across the country, which means that this process must repeat every couple months.

And keep in mind, all these problems are established in the first five minutes of the film, which doesn’t set a great precedent for the remaining runtime.


The next line of bullshit this movie expects us to swallow is Duff’s hairbrained scheme to stay in New York permanently, since it involves setting her mom up with a suitor who doesn’t exist.

At no point in the story does Duff’s character divulge how she is going to bring her plan to its natural conclusion, which would have to involve producing some sort of flesh-and-blood man (or at least a robot duplicate).

Instead, she just writes more and more love letters to her mom and eventually moves into email and instant messaging, since that was still a relatively new flavour of courtship in 2005.

This dumb plan isn’t even called into question by the various people who help Holly carry out this scheme, including her nerdy love interest (Adam Forrest) and street-mart best friend (Vanessa Lengies from Popular Mechanics for Kids).

I understand that the movie would have no conflict if Duff’s character concocted an air-tight plan to begin with, but the fact that the movie’s screenwriters never bothered to spell out any sort of endgame is pretty insulting to the audience.

Plus, the mechanics of Duff’s plan to court her mother via an imaginary proxy comes across as extremely creepy, especially when she starts sending Locklear messages online.

If this wasn’t a PG-rated movie aimed at teens, then Duff’s character definitely would have been forced to exchange increasingly lurid emails with her mom.

Now, I don’t usually get hung up on a stupid plot point here and there when watching a romantic comedy (or any genre of film, really). But the people behind The Perfect Man make it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief, since any remotely enjoyable element in this movie is tangled up in a web of dumb plot.

For example, Chris Noth is his usual suave self in his role as Duff’s unwitting Cyrano de Bergerac, and he really makes you believe that he holds all the secrets to wooing any woman.


In fact, one of the film’s best scenes involves Duff hilariously unloading a bunch of her teenage angst into Noth’s lap, since he is the first male authority figure she’s been able to confide in for a long time.

But, of course, this cute moment is undercut by the Three Stooges-esque hijinks that immediately follow, where Duff has to prevent Noth and Locklear from bumping into each other in a public place (she previously used his likeness to accompany one of her letters).

Even the legit chemistry between Duff and Forrest can’t escape the plot’s gravitational pull.

Despite establishing a charming back-and-forth early on, it’s only a matter of time before Duff’s love interest gets involved in her idiotic ruse by imitating Locklear’s secret admirer over the phone.

And it’s not like the film has some tight direction or great cinematography to fall back on either.

In fact, most of the shots in this movie come across as extremely flat and uninteresting, like something you would find in a Hallmark or Lifetime Channel movie (albeit with more recognizable actors filling up the screen).

A lot of the character writing isn’t above that low standard either, with side players like Carson Kressley’s flaming gay waiter coming across as particularly annoying.

And the less said about Lengies’ terrible Brooklyn accent the better.

Ultimately, I get the distinct impression that The Perfect Man was put into production solely to capitalize on Duff’s rising star in the early to mid-2000s, without giving too much thought as to how each moving piece would work as a whole.

And while I haven’t seen any of Duff’s other movies or TV shows from that period, I can’t imagine those pieces of media being bad at such a bedrock level.

Judging by the trailer to The Lizzie McGuire Movie, at least the premise of that film doesn’t revolve around the teen idol seducing a family member over the internet.



Corner store companion:

Chips Ahoy! Sour Patch Kids cookies (because it’s a complete failure at a conceptual level)


Fun facts:

-Release date: June 17, 2005

-Budget: $10 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $ 16,535,005 (US) $ 19,770475 (worldwide)

-The story behind The Perfect Man was partially inspired by the life of screenwriter Heather Robison, who sold her first script to Universal Studios in 2004.

-Duff received a Golden Raspberry nomination for her performance in this film and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. She inevitably “lost” to Jenny McCarthy for her role in Dirty Love.

-Mark Rosman directed Duff in 11 episodes of the Lizzie McGuire TV show before helming The Perfect Man.

-Unexpected cameo: Dennis DeYoung, the former lead singer of Styx, makes a brief appearance as the lead singer of a Styx cover band.

-The filmmakers behind The Perfect Man shot an alternate ending where Holly and Adam (her nerdy love interest) meet up at a comic book convention instead of heading to a school dance.

-Musical highlight: “Collide” by Howie Day (plays during the movie’s obligatory sad montage at the end of act two)

If Lucy Fell (1996) review- The Sex and the City prequel that everyone forgot about (and for good reason)

Sometimes I feel bad for Sarah Jessica Parker, since she still gets a lot of shit for easily her most iconic role.

Ever since Sex and the City went off the air in 2004, she’s been subject to a seemingly endless stream of think pieces and hot takes about how Carrie Bradshaw is such a bad protagonist; someone who is immature, materialistic, and completely self-absorbed.

This wasn’t helped by the series’ subsequent two big screen adaptations, which arguably made every character on that show look bad by taking their most negative qualities and pumping them up to 11.



However, after sitting through the 1996 romantic comedy If Lucy Fell, I think its safe to say that Parker’s more famous turn as a quirky New York City socialite on HBO could have gone a lot worse.

In this film, Parker plays the titular character of Lucy, who feels unfulfilled in love despite the fact that she has an amazing job (a therapist) that gives her enough disposable income to live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sound familiar yet?

But rather than unloading her anxiety on a trio of girlfriends, in this story Parker vents her frustration to her artist roommate and best friend Joe (played by Eric Schaeffer) who’s suffering from similar bouts of romantic frustration.

As the film starts, the pair come up with a solution that’ll fix both of their current predicaments: if they don’t find true love by the end of the month, they’ll both jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and kill themselves.

No, you read that right. You haven’t experience a stroke. The entire foundation of this alleged “romantic comedy” is built upon a death pact that’s initiated because two well-off, highly educated people are mopey that they haven’t found an intimate life partner by the time they turn 30.

It’s a shame that the phrase “first world problems” wasn’t popularized until much later after the movie’s release, because critics at the time could have easily summarized their reviews of this turkey by using those three simple words.

Now, to be fair, this premise could have been salvaged if the filmmakers were self-aware of their shallow premise and the movie was conceived as some kind of dark satire about how seriously some people take the New York City dating scene.

Unfortunately, these characters are played completely straight, which turns them into complete sociopaths.

For example, for someone who is supposed to be a therapist in a professional setting, Parker’s Lucy is completely inconsiderate of people’s feelings in her dating life, since she callously rejects potential suitors before she gets a chance to know them.

Even her attitude towards seemingly platonic friends is questionable, since I’m pretty sure that a licensed shrink shouldn’t, under any circumstances, joke about wanting to kill themselves.

Meanwhile, Schaeffer’s Joe comes across as being an unhinged, creepy stalker, since he’s constantly peeping on his hot neighbour and paints portraits of her as she walks around in her underwear.

There’s an extra layer of “ick” added to Joe’s storyline when you realize that Schaeffer served as the film’s writer, director and producer, which explains why a statuesque blonde like Elle MacPherson (the neighbour) would fall for a man who isn’t even remotely in her league in terms of charm, poise or physical attractiveness.

That being said, MacPherson should be commended for taking on the near insurmountable task of pretending to be turned on by Schaeffer’s obnoxious brand of 90s stand-up comedy when they start getting intimate.

At least when Woody Allen pulled this shit back in the day he had some good writing to back up his auteur narcissism. Schaeffer’s idea of a meet-cute scene involves inviting his love interest to an art gallery and greeting her with the line “I have herpes.”

Even though Parker’s courtship with a dreadlocked buffoon (Ben Stiller) doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s still really boring, mostly because you know that it isn’t going anywhere.

Within the first 10-15 minutes of the runtime, anybody with a brain would be able to predict that (SPOILERS) Parker and Schaeffer are going to end up together in the end, since they both eventually realize that the soul mate they’ve been looking for was in front of them all along.


I could go on and on about the movie’s adherence to other romantic comedy clichés, including half-baked physical comedy, a script full of fortune cookie wisdom that’s passed off a deep psychological insight, and an indie rock soundtrack that immediately dates the movie by two decades.

But I think the main reason why this film doesn’t work can be boiled down to the two mains leads, who are so repulsive and unlikable that you would rather watch them carry out their suicide pact than be a passive observer in their shallow pursuit of true love.

Say what you will about Sex and the City, but at least it used the backdrop of the New York dating scene to (occasionally) push boundaries and explore ideas that had never been discussed on TV before.

With If Lucy Fell, all the director brings to the table is his ego and desire to get laid, which he should have relegated to a personal diary entry or some kind of unpublished fan fiction.

(Speaking of personal logs, I am aware that Sex and the City already has a prequel in the form of The Carrie Diaries, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it … yet).



Corner store companion:

Sour Patch Kids (because you’ll be making that same kind of face throughout this entire cringefest anyway).


Fun facts:

-Release date: March 8, 1996.

-Budget: $5 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $4.5 million (estimated).

-I noticed a weird reoccurring pattern scrolling through Eric Schaeffer’s IMDB page, since he’s attached himself to several projects that include the word “fall” or allude to the act of falling in the title. These include: If Lucy Fell (1996), Fall (1997), Mind the Gap (2004), Gravity (TV series, 2010), and After Fall, Winter (2011). I don’t know if this is indicative of some kind of weird fetish that’s manifesting in his creative pursuits, but I’ll let you make the call.

-Unexpected cameo: A 12-year-old Scarlett Johansson has a small supporting role as one of Schaeffer’s students in his art class.

-The entire soundtrack for If Lucy Fell was provided by the indie rock band Mary Me Jane, whose involvement in the production gave them enough clout and leverage to produce their first studio album with Sony in January 1996.

-Musical highlight: “Twenty-one” by Mary Me Jane.