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Overall Rating
1.38

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average: 12.5%
Pretty Crappy: 12.5%
Sucks75%

1 review, 2 user ratings


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Grand Champion
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by Jack Sommersby

"There's a Cute Kid and a Steer Named Hokie, You See..."
1 stars

Makes you long for the scene in "Old Yeller" where the title character got shot.

Grand Champion is a family film that certainly has its heart in the right place, but it's still a phony, dramatically-obvious, pandering-down-to miasma of various other (better) films that manages to be both overwritten and underdeveloped and possessive of enough cringe-inducing 'cute' moments that make you want to hurl. Set in the small, rural Texas town of Snyder, Joey Lauren Adams, who played the bisexual feminist in Chasing Amy, stars as a young widow trying to raise a young son and daughter on her own; and from the moment Adams opens her mouth, with that annoying high-pitched voice of hers that makes Jennifer Tilly sound like James Earl Jones by comparison, the authenticity factor is effectively compromised. Adams not only doesn't sound like a Texan, but she doesn't look or move around like one, either -- possessive of a California tan, flawlessly smooth skin, and the disposition of a Starbucks customer in wait of her next latte, Adams never comes off as someone other than a Hollywood employee donning jeans for a big paycheck. (When she tells her daughter, "You can't call yourself a cowgirl if you don't play with cows.", you're tempted to retort, "Yeah, and you can't convince as a Texan just because you got 'dem Western duds on, gal.") Adams has a fine camera face and reasonable screen presence but not much depth, and she's always too easy to read -- she italicizes her emotions and plays every scene in the exact manner you expect it to be played. There's not a whisper of ingenuity anywhere in the performance. Then again, perhaps it's not entirely fair to levy so much disdain onto her work here, because the film itself -- written, produced and directed by Barry Tubb -- doesn't exactly do her any favors. Not even a Moore or Linney could do much with material that comes off like it's literally been ridden hard and put up wet.

In making his directorial debut, Tubb, an actor of just over twenty years and a former world-champion junior bull rider, has concocted one of those screenplays that tries to appease the masses so obsequiously in the hope of being loved that you can't help but loathe it. At first, when Adams strikes up a faint trace of romance with the town's newly-arrived, handsome veterinarian, shadows of Charles Shyer's Baby Boom and Martin Ritt's Murphy's Romance immediately spring to mind, and when her economically-challenged self refuses to sell her stead, echoes of all those solemnly serious '80s save-the-farm melodramas are evoked. But Tubb isn't interested in concentrating on any one thing for too long in fear of losing the attention of those with thirty-second attention spans, so he trots out mundane subplots that are so thin and unsubstantial it's surprising they managed to stick to the celluloid. It's not enough for Adams' son to enter the Big Texas Livestock Show with his prized steer Hokie so as to provide an 'underdog' element to the mix in light of his competing against the son of the town's rich Mr. Big, but this bigwig's family has been conceived in eye-rollingly stereotypical fashion: a sneering son, a ditsy and snooty blonde wife, and Mr. Big himself who not only has a mustache and wears a black hat but is driven around in a black limo with a license plate that reads YEE-HAW. Then, with the winner declared at about the midway mark, the story takes on another turn: after Hokie fetches nearly a million dollars in an auction, the son, who learns poor Hokie will be barbecued by the winning bidder, kidnaps it back and is determined to make it back home from the big city so the two can live happily ever after. This sets off a man/steer hunt for them, with Adams fearing for her son's safety and Mr. Big trying his darndest to prevent their capture by the authorities so his son can win the competition by default.

It's hard to single out the most annoying moment of this ludicrous film. When Adams is in line in a grocery store and you spot the veterinarian a couple of customers behind, you just know she's going to run into some kind of financial trouble with the cashier and he'll help out (which is a blatant crib of the Debra Winger/John Lithgow scene from Terms of Endearment). When her children are in their room praying at bedtime, there's a shot of Adams overhearing them and smiling warmly to herself, and the audiences' eyes roll rather than water. Cutesy reaction shots of Hokie reacting to his owner's mischievous antics make you long for the intellectualism of a Green Acres episode. For every good line of dialogue every, oh, forty-five minutes ("You can always tell a Texan -- you just can't tell 'em much.") there's a bad one every four-point-five seconds ("No member of my family is for sale -- four legs or two."). The montage of Adams & Family collecting cans, washing cars, singing karaoke, and holding a bake sale to raise the funds to drive to the big city for the contest, while Mr. Big & Family do fancy photo-ops, is so heavy-handed it feels like it has ball bearings attached to it. Mr. Big's henchman being ordered to stick his hand into a mound of steer droppings is an attempt at humor that is just that -- an attempt. Right when Adams' beater of a farm truck finally manages to make it to the big city for the contest, its radiator busts and strands the precocious clan on Texas St. (as if the sight of the Red River a couple of shots before didn't already make the state locale clear). And country singer George Strait, who proved himself a cinematic lightweight in his insipid 1992 star vehicle Pure Country, proves yet again in his brief appearance here that he's not comfortable in front of the camera, even when playing himself.

I found myself taking a cigarette break every fifteen minutes or so throughout Grand Champion because there's only so much trumped-up hokum I can take during a ninety-minute sitting. Oh, there are about four truly positive things in the film semi-worthy of mention: the opening title sequence is rather bouncy and promises a good time to be had (yeah, right); the Dixie Chicks' gorgeous Natalie Maines does an amusing turn as a big-haired conservative radio announcer who can't help mentioning her second-place beauty-contest finish while on the air (why couldn't she have played Adams' part?); the cinematography by Danny Moder (whose off-screen wife, Julia Roberts, has a cameo role as the contest's checking-in host) is more than adept and churns out a lovely final shot of a Texas sunset and a couple of cowboy hats silhouetted against it; and Bruce Willis contributes a nicely underplayed supporting performance as the filthy-rich purchaser of Hokie's future (this native New Yorker manages to do a much more convincing Texas swagger than the East Coast-raised Dumbya). But this is the kind of odious film that purports to be sending a strong moral message in its having its child hero refuse to sell his beloved animal for big bucks -- which is, yes, admirable -- yet doesn't bother to hold the very same child to task for his and his family's habitual meat-eating -- which, yes, reeks of inconvenient-truth hypocrisy. Instead of honestly depicting how adults and children honestly relate to one another, and contemplating making life-affirming choices and the willingness to accept their possible consequences, Barry Tubb is much more content with painting everything in black-and-white terms of the unrevealing he-hates-our-freedoms vein that ends up sending a rather pious message: self-absorption in one's wants and a get-out-of-jail-free card in achieving them are entitlements to kids who pray and have pretty mothers.

More inane stuff like this, and I'm going to recommend parents take their kid to a "Faces of Death" marathon showing instead.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11128&reviewer=327
originally posted: 11/01/04 20:41:03
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User Comments

9/09/06 Belinda Miils This movie is insulting to Texas culture and severely belittles the livestock show world. 2 stars
11/08/04 Ms. Jane Jack, the guy who panned this film, couldn't even spell the director's name right. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Mar-2002 (G)

UK
  02-May-2002

Australia
  02-May-2002


Directed by
  Barry Tubb

Written by
  N/A

Cast
  Jacob Fisher
  Joey Lauren Adams
  Bruce Willis
  George Strait
  Natalie Maines
  Julia Roberts



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