Picks and Pans Review: The Cowboy Way

updated 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Woody Harrelson, Kiefer Sutherland, Ernie Hudson, Cara Buono, Dylan McDermott

The title rips off a catchphrase of country music's spoofy Riders in the Sky. But the film displays none of the playfulness or satiric shrewdness of the Riders. While it is billed as an "urban action comedy," its action sequences are ludicrous and it's a "comedy" filled with point-blank shootings, crotch-kicking, throat-slashing, gruesome torture and a script that is basically a running conjugation and declension of the word "s—t."

Harrelson and Sutherland are rodeo stars from New Mexico who end up in New York City searching for Sutherland's missing ranch foreman, an elderly Cuban who has paid a sleazy coyote (McDermott) to smuggle his glamorous young daughter (Buono) into the country.

Harrelson is characteristically appealing, coasting in aw-shucks mode. Sutherland never seems athletic enough in the rodeo sequences, makes a laughable barroom brawler with his mincing walk and tendency to sound as if he's trying to deepen his voice, and he has none of Harrelson's comic timing. Hudson, as a sympathetic Manhattan cop, is a reliable pro who muddles through even the dumbest scene.

Director Gregg Champion, Marge and Gower's oldest son and a veteran second unit director, stages some lively Manhattan car chases but lets the tone and pace wander and otherwise settles for a most undistinguished second feature (the listless Short Time in 1990 was his first). Writer Bill Wittliff puts the boys through all the predictable paces—swanky Manhattan hotel, swanky Manhattan woman, tough Manhattan gangsters. He writes such dialogue as "We're not in the killing business, god damn it!" You would never guess this was the same guy who wrote the Lonesome Dove screenplay.

Somewhere along the way this might have seemed to be a snappy fish-out-of-water idea, a reverse City Slickers. In the execution, it evokes merely a more vulgar episode of Dennis Weaver's old TV series, McCloud. (PG-13)

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