Parton film has lame drama, great music


Let's hope this doesn't become a formula. Get an actress known for her glamour. Put her in a role as an abused spouse or daughter or other type of victim. Hope that the critical acclaim that follows provides a significant career change.

It worked for Farrah Fawcett in "The Burning Bed." It worked for Ann-Margret in a variety of TV movie roles. Now apparently it's supposed to do the trick for Dolly Parton in "Wild Texas Wind," the NBC movie that's on Channel 2 (WMAR) tonight at 9 o'clock.

It won't. "Wild Texas Wind" is a miscast, misdirected mess that misses the mark. But don't let that stop you from watching it. The music's great.

Despite the bumps and bruises, Parton is not exactly playing against type here. Her character is a country music singer. Her nickname is Big T. No smirks, please.

She sings for a hard-working, on-the-road kind of band that one day comes to the notice of an up-and-coming figure in the Texas entertainment world, a big nightclub owner played by Gary Busey.

He flips over Big T's singing and wants to put the band on the freeway to the big time, going along for the ride himself. The rest of the members, particularly the leader, a model of integrity played by Ray Benson (the character's name is Ben Rayson), don't mind the idea of getting to the top but are dubious of this newcomer's blind ambition.

But Busey and Parton are soon in love and that makes her blind to all these obvious pitfalls. It even makes her overlook a couple of brutal, temper-induced slaps to the face.

What follows is a by-the-book examination of an abusive relationship, the outbursts and apologies, the manhandling and manipulation. But it seems to come out of a textbook rather than a drama.

That's because not for a minute do you believe that these two characters are in such hopeless love that they are blind to what is happening. There's just no spark between them. So, after he hits her once, you just don't see that undeniable pull that draws her back into his orbit.

Individually, they are not bad. Busey does have a certain crazed charisma and Parton certainly knows how to play a country singer. But together, there's no magic. Busey looks way too young and Parton looks way too made-up. Indeed, even her tears don't mess up her mascara, and her bruises seem to be on top of her heavy pancake base. And he does have the sense to keep his hands off her wig.

Then there's a lame attempt at a pop-psychological explanation for Busey's abusive behavior, a few slapped-together scenes with his drunk and psychologically battering father. Finally, there's an odd melodramatic twist or two at the end.

But, if you look at "Wild Texas Wind" not as a serious movie that examines this social problem, but as an extended music video, you'll have yourself a decent Monday evening.

That's because Ray Benson not only made his acting debut in this film, but was also, along with Parton, responsible for most of its cornucopia of music. Benson has made his living for the past couple of decades as leader of a band called Asleep at the Wheel, which almost single-handedly has kept Texas swing music alive and kicking.

With Parton's wonderful deep-country voice fronting his tight, up-tempo numbers, "Wild Texas Wind" showcases some of the best that country music has to offer. Willie Nelson even shows up to sing a great duet of "On the Road Again" with Parton and make a little more money for his Internal Revenue Service bill.

Judge the dramatic parts of the movie as you would those in a music video. You don't expect much depth or complexity, just something of slight interest that fits with the song. That's about what "Wild Texas Wind" delivers, a country music kind of story -- "I didn't want to beat her, but I did, because my Daddy done me wrong."

In the end, this film doesn't re-direct Parton's career, but keeps it solidly on the same track. She's not a great actress, but boy she sure can sing.

This week's debuts

TUESDAY: "Homefront" (ABC) 9:30 p.m. on Channel 13 (WJZ), then regularly at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays.

WEDNESDAY: "Good & Evil" (ABC) 10:30 p.m. on Channel 13.

THURSDAY: "Pros & Cons" (ABC) 8 p.m. on Channel 13; "FBI: The Untold Stories" (ABC), 9 p.m. on Channel 13; "Reasonable Doubts" (NBC) 10 p.m. on Channel 2 (WMAR), then Fridays at 10.

FRIDAY: "Princesses" (CBS) 8 p.m. on Channel 11 (WBAL)

E9 SATURDAY: "The Commish" (ABC) 10 p.m. on Channel 13.

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