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‘The Cowboy Way’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 03, 1994

No, that's not a pistol in Woody Harrelson's pocket, it's his raison d'etre. Leastways, it sure seems that way after you get a load of the showboating buckaroo in "The Cowboy Way." A really crummy rip-off of " 'Crocodile' Dundee," this rode-hard horse opry is supposed to be a buddy comedy, but as far as Harrelson is concerned, costar Kiefer Sutherland is just scenery for his strut fest.

Uninventively directed by Gregg Champion from Bill "Lonesome Dove" Wittliff's screenplay, the movie follows Pepper (Harrelson) and his disgruntled rodeo partner, Sonny (Sutherland), from their New Mexico stomping ground to Manhattan. After the pair bust a couple of broncos, they head east to find Nacho (Joaquin Martinez), a friend who disappeared while searching for his daughter (Cara Buono). The girl, a Cuban immigrant smuggled into New York to work for a sweatshop, is now in the hands of the ring's evil leader (Dylan McDermott), who decides to keep her for his own amusement -- a plot left over from the Lillian Gish era.

Unlike Dundee, McCloud or even the Muppets, the cowboys act more like rube conventioneers than fish out of water. They order an expensive dinner at a posh hotel, where Pepper beguiles the ladies with tongue tricks, and later they visit Central Park, where they meet a mounted police officer (Ernie Hudson) and his pretty horse. When they do get down to business, they don't employ their rodeo skills, they just speed around town in their pickup truck.

Sonny, who is captured by the bad guys, remains on ice while Pepper goes to a glitzy party, does a striptease and becomes an underpants model for Calvin Klein. Harrelson rustles up a guffaw or two with this bump and grind. This is, however, something of a comedown after an earlier nude scene in which he manages to hang a 10-gallon hat on his raison d'etre.

Harrelson is perhaps overcompensating because the role was originally intended for Kevin Costner, who no longer takes it off to get attention. Then again, maybe he was just trying to distract the audience from his face. Swear to God, the man looks like a talking onion. And old Mr. Onion Head hasn't got the stuff to disguise a plot with more holes than Miss Kitty's fishnet stockings.

The film finally attempts to live up to its premise as the partners commandeer horses from the mounted cop and charge after the bad guy, who's aboard a crosstown subway. They may be bumpkins, but they never have to stop and ask directions because that's not the cowboy way.

"The Cowboy Way" is rated PG-13 for profanity, violence and sexual innuendo.

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