Despite the bait-and-switch title, “Pure Country 2: The Gift” has little or nothing to do with 1992’s enduringly popular “Pure Country,” the first (and, so far, only) starring vehicle for George Strait. Indeed, the “King of Country” appears onscreen here for barely five minutes — as himself, not the character he portrayed in the previous film — even though he looms large in newspaper ads and lobby posters for the pic, which kicked off a four-city platform Oct. 15. Word of mouth by disappointed (if not enraged) fans should effectively kill any hope of wider theatrical rollout.
The earlier “Pure Country” charted the decline and renaissance of Dusty Chandler (Strait), a country superstar who turns his back on glitz and glitter to get back in touch with his roots. The sequel in name only — directed, like its predecessor, by Christopher Cain (“Young Guns”) — takes a slightly more circuitous and much more spiritual approach to country-style happily-ever-aftering.
At the moment of her birth, little Bobbie Thomas is gifted with a beautiful singing voice by three benevolent yet demanding angels (Michael McKean, Cheech Marin, Bronson Pinchot). But there’s a catch: While raised by her doting Aunt Ella (Jackie Welch), Bobbie is repeatedly reminded to heed three important rules: Never lie. Always be fair. And never break a promise.
As a grown-up, however, Bobbie (newcomer Katrina Elam) finds it all too easy to break the rules after she leaves her small Kentucky hometown to pursue a singing career in Nashville. She fibs to land a waitress job, and later kicks her backup band to the curb, during an improbably rapid rise to fame and fortune engineered by a cheerfully sleazy agent (Todd Truley).
Still, Bobbie remains at heart a sunny, sweet-natured lass as she begins a chaste romance with a rodeo cowboy (Travis Fimmel), and extends a helping hand when she’s unexpectedly reunited with her long-lost, hard-drinking father (J.D. Parker). But when her dad’s drunken misbehavior drives her to withdraw that helping hand — well, that’s interpreted by the angels as the breaking of a promise.
“Pure Country 2” has the look and feel of a pic aimed primarily at the same auds who flocked to “Fireproof” and other similarly faith-based features. The deceptive ad campaign suggests Warners coveted a larger demographic — i.e., the millions of Strait fans who have made the original “Pure Country” a steady homevid seller for nearly two decades. But “Pure Country 2” is such a tepid and uninspired piece of work, it will be hard-pressed to generate must-see enthusiasm among any target group.
Working from a primary-colored, by-the-numbers script he co-wrote with stepson Dean Cain (who has a cameo role), Christopher Cain keeps the pic plodding along at a pace that allows sufficient time for each plot point to be announced, underscored and then repeated for anyone not paying close attention. Some of the hokey dialogue verges on self-parody (falling in love, Aunt Ella says, is “like taking a bath in warm tapioca pudding”). Still, there is something amusing about the obvious efforts taken to keep the language mostly squeaky-clean and family-friendly.
Oddly enough, the only person in the pic who comes close to cussing is Strait, who pops up in three scenes as himself and mumbles a mild, self-deprecating vulgarity after rather unconvincingly punching out a troublemaker. Judging from aud responses at a weekend matinee screening, Strait’s fans will be all the more upset by the fact that he doesn’t even sing.
A real-life up-and-comer in the country music world, Elam evidences spirited charm and impressive singing prowess. But the film’s strongest thesping comes from J.D. Parker, who makes the most of minimal screen time with a performance so understated and emotionally resonant, some ticketbuyers may wonder whether he wandered in from another movie.
Steve Dorff, who wrote two chart-topping hits for the original “Pure Country,” contributes a few new tunes that should help boost CD sales. Juan Ruiz-Anchia’s attractive lensing of Nashville locations is another plus for a pic that could have used a few more.