Rodeo drama “Painted Hero” should barrel through a perfunctory and extremely limited theatrical rollout before lassoing moderate vid rentals among fans of singer Dwight Yoakam. The country crooner turns in a credible lead performance as the rodeo clown with a past, but lackluster murder intrigue, familiar characters and bronco scenes that have the whiff of stock footage won’t garner much interest outside followers of Yoakam or the sport. Pic has its commercial premiere Dec. 6 in Las Vegas in conjunction with the National Rodeo Finals.
Yoakam makes a suitably laconic Virgil Kidder, the clown who’s taken refuge in two-bit rodeos and one-night stands since abandoning his girlfriend and baby son seven years prior to pic’s action. “Painted Hero” begins as Virgil, encouraged by an old buddy (played by the suitably laconic Bo Hopkins), returns to Waco to clown and confront his past.
That past also includes the local redneck sheriff (John Getz), who blames Virgil for the bronco-busting accident that ended his rodeo career way back when. Trouble escalates (if drama doesn’t) when sheriff’s weird niece (Kiersten Warren), who thinks she’s a vampire, ends up in Virgil’s car trunk with a stake through her heart. The generally deadpan reaction to this gratuitously violent gimmick isn’t the only unintentional humor in the movie. Scripters might or might not be winking, with white-trash jokes scattered throughout (“He stabbed me with a damned corn dog stick!” Virgil screams after one brawl.)
While the movie’s first half is a capable, if leisurely, depiction of the lonesome cowboy’s reintroduction to his old hometown, second half gets mired in the silly murder mystery that — no surprise — unearths past relationships and long-buried secrets. Film doesn’t even pretend to point a finger at anyone besides the bad sheriff (played by Getz as a gum-cracking stereotype with mirrored sunglasses and Central Casting accent.)
Like the tech credits, non-lead performances are OK if not particularly memorable, although Warren manages to infuse her loony vampire-wannabe with moments of poignance — no small feat given her character’s oft-stated sexual penchant for clowns and stick-shift autos.
Director Terry Benedict clearly has more affection for the film’s earlier languid scenes, and is less convincing in the later action segments. Pic’s rodeo sequences are generic, falling short even of the drama mined in the modest Luke Perry starrer “Eight Seconds.” Director also stumbles with such contrived bits as a long, exposition-laden (and tediously shot) car ride and the hokey, bronco-ex-machina climax wherein the sheriff gets his comeuppance. Murder mystery is explained away in a brief five minutes, which seems about right.