By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Not like the song.
Travis (Dennis Quaid) is an aspiring singer with some talent, but little discipline. He’s achieved one hit song,but his drinking and partying keeps getting him in trouble. Amanda (Kristy McNichol) is his younger sister and though she’s only 16 she is more mature and responsible. She tries to manage Travis’ career by getting him to Nashville, so he can cut a record and get an agent, but his wild ways and their lack of funds, keeps preventing them from getting there. Eventually he gets arrested for public drunkenness and in order to pay the fine is forced to get a job at a local bar. It’s there that he meets Melody (Sunny Johnson) and tries to pursue a relationship, but becomes aware that Seth (Don Stroud), the deputy sheriff, has a thing for her as well and he won’t allow any other guy to talk to her as he’ll fly into a jealous rage and warns Travis of this, but Travis being reckless as always doesn’t let this phase him. As this goes on Amanda begins a romance of her own with with Conrad (Mark Hamill) who works as a state trooper.
Although in theory it’s ‘inspired’ by the song of the same name it technically doesn’t have anything to do with it. In other films that were made from songs like Convoy, Harper Valley PTA, and Ode to Billy Joe, the central theme was maintained and then expanded on, but here we don’t even get that. The song, with lyrics written by Bobby Russell and then sung by his then wife Vicki Lawrence, had to do with a man getting executed for killing another man who had an affair with his wife even though it was really his kid sister that did the crime. A plot like that could’ve had great potential for being an interesting movie, so why the producers didn’t just go with that original concept I don’t know, but it seems like a travesty for them to retain the song title and I’m surprised the producers of the record didn’t sue.
The plot, as it is here, is limp and uninspired. It basically feeds off of a lot of predictable shenanigans like Travis getting caught in a hotel bed with another man’s wife and then being chased around both on foot and in a vehicle until both he and Amanda are able to get away. In between we get treated to a lot of songs, which normally I’d say was nothing more than filler, which it still is, but since the rest of it is so lame, it comes off more like the best thing in it. Quaid and McNichol do all of their own singing and even wrote their own lyrics and they give energetic performances when onstage, so if you decide to see this thing then I’d suggest fast-forwarding through the rest of it and just stick with the music and you might be pleased.
The acting by Quaid is excellent and Don Stroud is great as the nemesis. McNichol is alright, at least when she’s singing, but otherwise gets pushed to the background and with her super short hair and nagging personality lacks sex appeal and at times looks almost like she could’ve been Quaid’s kid brother instead. The fact that they’re so close and do everything together would make one wonder if there’s something incestuous going on. In the more innocent times of the early 80’s maybe this wouldn’t be the first thought that would pop into people’s minds, but these days I’d suspect others would be wondering the same thing. There’s also no explanation for what happened to their parents. At one point McNichol mentions that she’s orphaned, so there really needs to be a backstory showing of what caused that.
The biggest gripe though is with the ending in which Travis gets shot and killed by Seth, who also dies in the gunfight. It then concludes with McNichol getting with Hamill, who quits his job as the state trooper, and the two drive-off in her rickety old truck to God knows where. Since the story was mainly about the brother/sister relationship then I felt that’s where it should’ve ended with them in Nashville either getting the record deal, or not. The Hamill character is bland and seemed to be added in with no other purpose, but to extend the already anemic plot. There’s also the fact that he was 29 at the time while McNichol plays someone who was only 16, so them getting into a relationship doesn’t exactly look kosher. Granted the age of consent in the state of Georgia is 16, so I guess in the eyes of law it’s okay, but many today will consider this kind of romance to be cringey, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s the main reason why this film has never had a proper DVD release nor any streaming option.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: June 5, 1981
Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes
Director: Ron Maxwell
Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Hard to believe Maxwell would go on to direct the Civil War epic ‘Gettysburg’.