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URBAN COWBOY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 12, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: This unabashedly old-fashioned romance (except for its raunchier aspects), bolstered by a then-unusual country-western backdrop, gave John Travolta’s career a much-needed jolt in 1980 as well as handing movie stardom to Debra Winger and Scott Glenn. And fans will be happy to see that Paramount Home Video has finally released the Blu-ray upgrade they have been clamoring for. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 14, 1980.

“Urban Cowboy” is a movie riddled with clichés and saddled with an extremely predictable storyline; it’s sentimental, sappy, steals from at least a dozen other films – and I loved every minute of it.

Criticizing a film like this one is easy because it sets itself up for it. In many ways it’s nothing more than the standard boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back-again formula we’ve seen thousands of times before.

But director, co-author James Bridges is a master at slick entertainment, as demonstrated with “The Paper Chase” in 1972 and “The China Syndrome” last year, and he has endowed “Urban Cowboy” with enough warmth to pull it off.

Manipulative? Yes, but also a heck of a lot of fun.

     

Debra Winger, John Travolta, 'Urban Cowboy' (1980)

The whole project is little more than a vehicle for John Travolta’s comeback (he was last seen floundering through the disastrous “Moment by Moment”) and his charm is unquestionable. When he appeared on the screen clean-shaven (he wears a beard for the film’s first 10 minutes), women in the audience went bananas.

 Hysteria aside, don’t expect any disco moves. Travolta hoofs it some but it’s all in keeping with the high-stepping country-western theme of the movie, a form that cinema seems to have really just discovered.

Much of “Urban Cowboy” revolves around Gilley’s, a Houston nightspot billed as “The World’s Largest Nightclub” – a sort of honky-tonk warehouse. There, a mechanical bucking bronco allows “urban cowboys” to simulate their rodeo dreams. This mechanical mare also provides the film with its “Rocky”-style finale.

     

Travolta isn’t an actor of much depth (to register outrage he pops out his eyes and the veins on his neck until he resembles a Great Dane that’s just heard a dog whistle), but his charisma should carry him through a long and fruitful film career.

As the girlfriend who quickly becomes his wife, Debra Winger is much better. Her tough-but-tender character requires an underlying sensitivity that she easily provides.

But the real scene-stealer is Scott Glenn as the ex-con who becomes Travolta’s rival. Glenn is excellent as evil personified, displaying a commanding screen presence.

I might add that “Urban Cowboy,” with profanity, sex and violence, is a bit raunchy for a PG-rated film.

So what’s next? “Rural Businessman,” of course.