The Strange Blues of Cowboy Red,” the second feature from British Columbia–based helmer Rick Raxlen, is a curious Canuck road movie about one Montrealer’s quest for the lost spirit of Roy Rogers. But even the most diehard fans of the old ’50s TV cowboy hero will have a hard time identifying, and pic’s overwrought portrait of male midlife crisis is too self-indulgent to strike many universal chords. The film, shot on 16mm stock and using some video images, will likely be limited to fest rounds and specialized tube slots in Canada.
The Roy Rogers obsession comes courtesy of Red (Terry Haig), a frustrated poetry teacher and sometime madcap radio deejay. When an old childhood buddy shows up for dinner one night, Red goes into a near-reverie as they recall the pleasures of watching Rogers on TV when they were kids.
When the old friend dies in a car crash, would-be cowboy Red is pushed over the edge. He leaves his wife and young kid, and moves in with the mysterious Whitie (Susan Raxlen). Shortly thereafter, he becomes involved with Whitie’s 18 -year-old daughter, Mauve (Kristine Demers), though the weak script never makes clear why this teenage girl is attracted to an aging teacher obsessed with old cowboys-and-Indians shows.
Red and Mauve soon hit the open road to head out west, though he quickly dumps his young g.f. at a roadside diner. The object of Red’s quest is the “Cowboy Code,” which used to be printed on the flip side of the Roy Rogers Riders Club Membership Card, and he eventually runs into an old man in a kitschy tourist-trap Western town who has a copy of the card.
Haig manages to elicit some sympathy as Red, but Raxlen and Brenda Newman’s script stretches one’s patience. One of the few engaging touches is Raxlen’s witty use of clips from vintage Roy Rogers shows and old Westerns to send up the modern drama. The fine country-flavored soundtrack does a good job of setting a twangy tone for the story.
Raxlen maintains an innovative edge visually, with sequences in grainy video, spooky double-exposed imagery, and juxtaposition of color and B&W sequences. But the visual experimentation cannot transcend the lackluster subject matter.