“8 Seconds” takes a smooth, sappy ride through the life of a great bucking bull rider. Sweet, sentimental and rose-colored to a fault, this family-oriented biopic has none of the grit, dust and bruises that define the sport in question; it plays more like a reassuring, inspirational TV movie than a big-screen attraction. Aud for this, if it still exists en masse, is the Middle American one that supported four-walled “Wilderness Family”-type sagas 15-20 years ago, although New Line should be able to generate some coin on basis of star Luke Perry and a “true rodeo ‘Rocky’ ” promotion of director John G. Avildsen.
In his feature starring debut, Perry plays Lane Frost, an Oklahoma boy who became world champion bull rider in 1987 but was tragically killed in a rodeo accident two years later. Virtually all the characters in Monte Merrick’s painting-by-numbers script are based on real people, which is no doubt partly responsible for the caution and reverence with which the film approaches virtually every scene.
From the outset, it is apparent that the main challenge here should be finding a new way to relate the familiar premise of a young man’s attempt to turn his dream of sports triumph into reality. A secondary goal might have been discovering a fresh approach to lensing rodeos.
Unfortunately, the picture rises to neither occasion. The sketch of Frost’s life and career arc could not be more perfunctory: Early training by his former riding champ dad; hitting the circuit with best pals Tuff Hedeman (Stephen Baldwin), who reps his toughest competition, and Cody Lambert (Red Mitchell), who’s better at scribbling cowboy poetry; shy courtship and marriage with Kellie (“Northern Exposure’s” Cynthia Geary), the only girl he ever loved; winning the championship; dealing with fame, which leads to temptations on the road, a bitter separation from Kellie but eventual mature reconciliation, and a climactic series of rides on a fearsome bull that’s never been ridden in more than 300 attempts.
Treatment of all this, particularly the domestic scenes, is exceedingly polite, making for little conflict even when the characters are arguing. Frost’s ascent to the top of his profession feels more like a glide than a struggle, and his only nagging frustration is that his reserved father (James Rebhorn) can never express his love and support.
Although the riding is expectedly impressive and the atmosphere authentic, Avildsen and lenser Victor Hammer don’t come up with any new visual angles on the rodeo, certainly nothing to compare, for instance, with the stunning images in the new documentary “Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story.”
The elaborate preparation for a rider’s quick trip in the arena are largely glossed over, and the vivid immediacy of the man-vs.-beast contests is softened by the gross extension of the rides; even the film’s title is false, in that the rides are made to last upwards of 25 seconds before the buzzer sounds.
Part of the mild impact is also due to Frost’s lightweight personality, at least as written and enacted here. Early on, when Tuff, who thinks he’s John Wayne, is lecturing Frost on how “you can’t be a cowboy and be a nice guy,” Frost is standing in their motel room flossing his teeth, which pretty much sums up his character.
Although his role is one-dimensional, Baldwin again registers strongly as the aptly named sidekick, who in real life has won three world titles himself. Remainder of cast is vanilla.
Tech contributions are pro. Film features one of the most egregiously overextended end-credit sequences ever devised, thanks largely to the liberal amount of Frost family home-movie footage the filmmakers felt compelled to serve up.