Pure Country ★★★½

There's really only one reason to see Pure Country and that's that you're a fan of George Strait. I, of course, am so I've seen the movie a dozen times or so over the years. The premise is simple enough: A country music star gets sick of the evolution of his stage show into arena rock and goes AWOL to sort out his life.

The soundtrack is probably the unbilled co-star here. I could write a whole piece about just that album, and in fact I did write one for Flickchart a while back.

Though Strait himself doesn't seem very comfortable in most of his dialog scenes, the parts where he gets to stand and smile are a reminder of his understated charisma. "He could stand there and look cross-eyed and they'd still go crazy," Buddy Jackson laments early in the film. He's right.

Personally, I think the best casting decision in the film was Isabel Glasser as Harley Tucker. It's a shame she's had such little screen work because she's instantly likable and endearing here. We often hear about how good actors can convey whole pages of script without saying a word, and I see that from her throughout this film - which is a definite plus because, let's face it, Rex McGee's dialog here is pretty perfunctory.

I tend to have short patience for contrivances in films, but Pure Country manages to circumvent that here. I actually accept that Wyatt doesn't come clean with Harley about who he really is because he's trying so hard to distance himself from his public persona. I think one of the reasons it works here is that there aren't many conversation scenes in which we see him squirm to avoid giving himself away or going to any great lengths to maintain a charade. The fact it isn't even actually a charade at all helps.

I love the scene where, finding out that the Tucker family is on hard times, Wyatt throws some money at Harley's brothers for roping lessons and room and board. Glasser's reactions are comical without delving into caricature. It's also a lot of fun to watch Harley and Wyatt fall for one another without almost any exposition or verbal wooing. It's actually a lot riskier storytelling than I think the casual viewer realizes because if the two actors don't sell the chemistry, we don't buy the movie at all. Strait and Glasser sell it.

I do give McGee credit for avoiding a lot of country/southwestern cliches. Sure, the whole film amounts to being one but somehow, scene by scene there's a surprisingly light touch. Only John Doe lays it on too thick as Wyatt's drummer and friend, Earl. He sounds like a guy doing an impression of some country folks he overheard chatting at a table next to him in a restaurant once, but he also gets some of the funnier lines in the film. He has better chemistry in conflict with Leslie Ann Warren than he does as Strait's pal.

Which brings me to one last point worth making. Much has been made over the years that Strait vetoed kissing Glasser because he was uncomfortable kissing someone who wasn't his wife, but not much has been said about how purely platonic the relationship between Wyatt and Lula is. There's never even a whiff of anything sexual or romantic between the two, not even in the past. They're friends, plain and simple. I wish the film got more credit for showing that kind of male/female relationship paradigm.

Pure Country Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#317/1501)

Pure Country > The Karate Kid (1984) --> #317
I always liked The Karate Kid, but I wasn't a huge fan of it. Pure Country is pretty thin, but I have a soft spot for it as a George Strait fan. It wins.

Pure Country > Die Hard 2 --> #317
Die Hard 2 is fun, but there's no real substitute for the presence of Alan Rickman from the first film. Going with Pure Country here for its cornball charisma.

Pure Country > Office Space --> #188
Office Space is probably the more satisfying of the two films, and easily more quotable, but I'm a longtime fan of George Strait and each time I see Pure Country I become a bit more smitten with Isabel Glasser.

Pure Country < To Kill a Mockingbird --> #188
Though I'm a dedicated fan of the likable though vapid Pure Country, I can't pick it over the poignant, weightier To Kill a Mockingbird.

Pure Country > From Hell --> #140
From Hell is an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper legend and has terrific production and costume designs, but the truth is I just like Pure Country more.

Pure Country < Return of the Jedi --> #140
In general, I think I might actually pick George Strait over Star Wars, but I can't pick Pure Country over Return of the Jedi.

Pure Country > Citizen Kane --> #128
I readily concede that Citizen Kane is the superior film and I did enjoy it quite a bit, but I don't have the personal devotion to it that I have to Pure Country.

Pure Country < Sullivan's Travels --> #128
Thematically, these two have a lot in common. Sullivan's Travels explores more interesting territory, though, and I'm picking it here.

Pure Country > Black Dynamite --> #125
Black Dynamite is one of the most fun movies I've seen in the last decade, but it doesn't soothe me the same way that Pure Country does.

Pure Country < Licence to Kill --> #125
I'm probably as big a fan of George Strait as I am of James Bond. Licence to Kill is a gratifying Bond film, particularly for me as a reader of Fleming's novels. (Pure Country has the better soundtrack, though!)

Pure Country was re-ranked to #125/1501 on My Flickchart