#With: Rodney A. Grant, Aaron Neville, Charlie Sexton.
Mickey Rourke does better in the rodeo ring than in the arena of life in “F.T.W.,” a mostly ho-hum cross between a modern cowboy yarn and a lovers-on-the-run crime saga. Quiet, even delicate mood set by Rourke’s performance is disrupted by cliched scripting and the leading characters’ predictably self-destructive downward spiral. Modest pic would no doubt be thrown from the saddle right away in any theatrical ride, and the nasty violence would prove a turnoff for the young, Middle American “8 Seconds” crowd. But star’s name will at least provide it with a certain profile in vid and cable release.
All Frank T. Wells (Rourke) wants after 10 years in prison is the usual cowboy dream — ridin’ free and havin’ a little place of his own. A rodeo champ at 24, he admits that something inside him died after what he claims was an act of self-defense was twisted into a manslaughter conviction. Nevertheless, he hits the circuit again in Montana to see if he can make a buck and recapture something of his former glory.
Scarlett Stuart (Lori Singer) is another story altogether, a wildcat involved in a highly abusive, frankly sexual relationship with her intimidating brother, Clem (Peter Berg). After Clem kills four people in a bank robbery, the cops mow him down. Scarlett escapes, only to meet Frank on the road.
Bunking in Frank’s trailer, Scarlett realizes that fate might be playing its hand here, in that Frank has the same initials that she has tattooed on her hand — F.T.W., as in what the world can go do with itself. Although she’s accustomed to much rougher treatment than she gets from Frank, the two inevitably hook up, and remainder of the film parallels his re-emergence as a bronco rider with her misguided attempts to give them financial security by robbing convenience stores and banks.
Although there’s no reason, in theory, why rodeo and crime shouldn’t mix, they don’t match up well in this case, largely because Frank and Scarlett’s natures and desires are at such odds. Frank is a throwback, much like Kirk Douglas’ naive cowboy in “Lonely Are the Brave,” who was born a hundred years too late, while it’s impossible to imagine Scarlett settin’ out on the porch watching the sunset for one evening, much less a lifetime.
They’re both outsiders, to be sure, but they each belong in a different movie with a different partner, not preventing each other from being their true selves. From a dramatic p.o.v., they generate no rooting interest as a couple. Ending is far-fetched, tragically sentimental and hard to swallow. Looking a bit filled out and outfitted with what seem to be ill-fitting dentures, Rourke delivers an appealing portrait of an uncomplicated, mostly gentle man of limited horizons, one who deserves the break he never gets. Singer’s character is considerably less sympathetic, especially when she continues to commit stupid crimes against her lover’s wishes. Supporting perfs are adequate.
Rodeo footage is kept to a relative minimum, and Big Sky locations rep a major plus. Behind-the-scenes contributions are par.