‘Accidental Texan’ Film Review: A Simplisitc Feel-Good Texas Fable

Mar 9, 2024

Based on the novel “Chocolate Lizards” by Cole Thompson and adapted by Julie B. Denny, Mark Lambert Bristol’s “Accidental Texan” is a strange little comedy-drama. This is an old-fashioned picture that tries hard to balance a sweet disposition and precious life lessons wrapped in a Capra-esque good ol’ boy fable.

An audience favorite at last year’s Dallas International Film Festival, “Accidental Texan” examines the themes of community through the journey of a failed actor named Erwin (Rudy Pankow), who screws up his first real acting gig. After getting himself fired from a movie set, he takes off down the highway, loses his agent and eventually his car, as it breaks down in a little slice of Texas called Buffalo Gap. Wandering into the local diner, Erwin meets waitress Faye (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Merle (Thomas Haden Church), an oil driller who sees something in the young man that could be beneficial for the both of them. Merle is damn near bankrupt; both men simpatico in their desperation. Realizing there may just be a glimmer of hope, Merle hatches a plan to use Erwin’s acting skills to outwit a corrupt oil company that is trying to fleece the citizens and buy up the town.

“Accidental Texan” certainly hopes to be an uplifting film, but it becomes overly familiar and much too saccharine, right down to the way it is shot. Matt Wise’s camera shoots almost every scene in bright, sunny hues, giving the film a modern beer commercial sheen. The Texas landscapes are fertile ground for cinematographers, but Wise fails to make anything interesting out of the Austin and Bartlett locations.

Composer Carl Thiel’s score does the picture no favors. His milquetoast compositions are better suited for goofily earnest family films of the 1970s like “Across the Great Divide” and “The Wilderness Family” trilogy. Every emotion is telegraphed by cheesy orchestra swells that try their best to pull at the heartstrings while a lone banjo reminds the audience that this is good old Texas.

The film (almost) gets by on the good will of the cast. Thomas Haden Church does his Thomas Haden Church thing, but it works for this character. His patented aloofness mixes well with Merle’s determination. Moss (an underused actress) does okay in an underwritten role as a woman who wants to see her town saved, the bad oil company bested, and to hopefully make good on the unspoken attraction between her and Merle.

Rudy Pankow is bland as Erwin, though sometimes overplaying this wide-eyed wanderer. Stunt casting comes in the form of a wasted Bruce Dern. Since his Oscar-nominated turn in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”, the legendary actor seems to only play cantankerous old coots. His role here is no different. Dern’s character is the one holdout, whose land could be the last link to the town’s salvation. Do you think he will swoop in and save the day come film’s end? Of course he will. If that was a spoiler for anyone, you’ve never been to the movies.

By the time the big bad oil men send a helicopter with a gunman aboard to shoot up Merle’s oil right, the film goes completely south. The scene of Merle, Faye, Erwin, and the workers being shot at by automatic rifles seems to be from another movie. Nothing in the screenplay has prepared the audience for such an abrupt and unnecessary tonal shift and it further hurts an already wounded film.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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