Its pivotal opening and closing sequences set at the titular Ant Farm artwork on the Texas prairie, “Cadillac Ranch” is a reasonably engaging, nicely acted tale of sisterly discord and bonding, even if it lacks the dramatic edginess and impact that would make it a contender in the theatrical arena. Very much a women’s piece in terms of both content and potential audience, pic has a modesty of ambition and achievement that places its future more on cable and video.
Abandoned by their father in a 1974-set prologue that is elaborated upon in explanatory black-and-white snippets throughout the picture, CJ, Frances and Mary Katharine Crowley are three Texas gals initially reunited to celebrate the youngest sister’s impending marriage. To get together at all, Frances (Caroleen Feeney) and soon-to-be-wed Mary Katharine (Renee Humphrey) must bail hellcat CJ (Suzy Amis) out of jail, although the irrepressible troublemaker promptly returns to her job stripping at a club owned by former Texas Ranger Wood (Christopher Lloyd).
Wood, a mean, vindictive sort who was responsible for sending the girls’ dad, Travis (Jim Metzler), to prison, quickly fires CJ for insubordination, whereupon the threesome steal from him a key that will provide access to a large stash from a long-ago heist perpetrated by Wood, Travis and a third man purportedly murdered by Travis.
This sets in motion a semi-comic chase that lurches across the unchanging Texas landscape at an irregular pace, one determined as much by disagreements among the women as by the proximity of the greedy, threatening Wood. The sisters share a fascination with their long-lost father, even if they’ve dealt with his absence in different ways, and Jennifer Cecil’s often pungent script rings especially true in regard to the no-holds-barred ways in which riled-up siblings can deal with one another. Potential romance rears its head in the person of hunky cowboy poet Beau (Linden Ashby), who is inclined to sweet-talk and respect Frances when she might possibly prefer a more rough-riding approach.
Interplay among the young ladies rightly takes center stage, while the heist and race for the cash provide just enough of a narrative skeleton to keep them in the same picture. At the same time, the increasingly clownish antics of Wood make it clear that, despite the gravity of his past actions, he poses little danger of disrupting the women’s plans.
Juicy roles provide a good showcase for all three lead actresses, with indie stalwart Amis making hay with the showiest part and Feeney doing her best work in a deadpan drinking bout and its unexpected aftermath. Humphrey brings energy to the less colorful youngest-sister role, while Lloyd injects extremely low-key looniness into the vengeful Wood.
Lisa Gottlieb’s nimble, unflashy direction certainly represents an improvement on her 1985 debut feature, “Just One of the Guys.” Tech contributions are OK on what was clearly a tight budget, although widescreen lensing gives the proceedings a welcome breadth.