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‘Cold Feet’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 22, 1989


Robert Dornhelm
Keith Carradine;
Sally Kirkland;
Tom Waits;
Rip Torn
Under 17 restricted

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If they gave a prize for chummy in-jokiness, "Cold Feet," a brain-damaged hipster Western starring Keith Carradine and Sally Kirkland, would take it. And if you feel excluded, shut out or just plain bored, join the club. You're not alone.

Set in the wide-open landscapes of Montana, the picture is an antiheroic genre piece about a pack of demented cowboys and crooks who sneak a fortune in emeralds over the Mexican border in the belly of a valuable stallion named Infidel. (Never mind how.) The story is the shaggiest imaginable and provides little more than an occasion for the characters to flaunt their eccentricities, and the writers their tough-guy poetry.

The thing is, it may actually have been funny once. The script was written some 12 years ago by novelists Tom McGuane and Jim Harrison, who worked together, mostly by mail. Ten years later, when director Robert Dornhelm showed an interest, McGuane brought it up to date. Maybe it was even funny on paper. The sensibility of the material is self-consciously insouciant -- these writers have labored hard at their anarchism. Here and there, a kinky line of dialogue will leap out and the attitude of depraved idiosyncrasies the filmmakers had hoped for comes clear.

But mostly, Dornhelm stages scenes that are brief elucidations on some cryptic crony code. Watching them is like listening to Big Sky cowpokes trying to crack each other up. Translation is what's desperately needed.

The whole point, though, is to be inaccessible, out there, shooting the hipster curl. Carradine, who's naturally off-center, plays the square to Tom Waits' demented beatnik fool. Kirkland is a nyphomaniacal moll dressed in electric pastels who can't get anyone to go to bed with her. And Rip Torn is the sheriff who arrests them (though not until he gets a pair of lizard skin cowboy boots out of the deal first). At rock bottom, the picture wears its chic peculiarity to disguise its ineptitude. It's a con. Even the stallion isn't a stallion.

"Cold Feet" is rated R and contains some bizarre sexual innuendoes and adult situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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