Urban Cowboy (1980)

urban cowboy 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ride the mechanical bull.

Bud (John Travolta) has just moved to the big city of Houston and is looking to fit-in and prove himself to the local crowd. He finds his niche at a local hang out called Gilley’s where he gets noticed for the way he rides the mechanical bull that is there. He also meets Sissy (Debra Winger) who he quickly falls in love with and marries. Sissy takes an interest in riding the bull as well, but Bud refuses to allow it as he is afraid it might compete with his own macho image. When she does it anyways he becomes angered and the two break-up, but secretly long to get back together especially when the other relationships that they get into aren’t as fulfilling.

This movie, which is based on a magazine story, is highly disjointed and doesn’t have any type of seamless pace. There is way too much footage of people dancing on the barroom dance floor and the amount of songs that get played, which ends up being 30 as I counted them during the closing credits, is too many. The songs themselves are great, but by playing so many it starts sounding more like a radio station playlist than a movie soundtrack. The Texas caricatures also get overdone. In this movie everybody wears a cowboy hat even though I have now been living in this state for 4 months and can count on the fingers of one hand how many people I’ve seen wearing one since I’ve moved here. The Texas drawls of the characters are a bit too heavy and at one point during Bud’s job interview the interviewer refers to Bud as ‘boy’ or more aptly ‘Bo-AH’. I realized that this was made 35 years ago, so it may just be life from a different era, but it still seemed over-the-top and not a balanced, realistic view of the state as a whole.

Travolta’s presence doesn’t help as it reminded me of Saturday Night Fever as both of those characters go through the same type of growing pains into manhood. The sexist, immature way that he treats Sissy really got on my nerves and he was certainly not the type of character I would want to make the center point of a movie. Winger on the other hand is beautiful and far more appealing. The fact that she gets treated just poorly by her second boyfriend (Scott Glenn) is equally irritating and I started to wish they had written out the two dipshit male leads completely and made her the sole centerpiece of the story. I also liked Barry Corbin in support as Bud’s uncle, but the way he dies by getting struck by lightning is hooky.

The riding the mechanical bull stuff to me looks unintentionally funny and even strangely sexual. It’s also not all that interesting to watch and quickly becomes repetitive to look at, which severely diminishes the ‘exciting’ climatic sequence that it’s built around. The only scene involving the mechanical bull that I did like is when Winger gets on it and starts riding it in all sorts of different provocative poses, which was fun and sexy.

The second half of the film loses its focus completely and instead of being this intended gritty ‘boy-to-man’ drama becomes more like a soap opera where the emphasis is on whether Sissy and Bud will get to back together, which is not that interesting or original and the schmaltzy ending is Hollywood at its clichéd worst.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 12Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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