Lionsgate // 2001 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 23rd, 2005
A comedy about good friends and bad habits.
Peter Fonda (The Limey) and Kris Kristoffersen (Blade) star in this comedy-drama hybrid about a couple of salt-of-the-earth sheep ranchers colliding with an MTV-generation teenager. Wooly Boys definitely has heart, but it might be a little too schizophrenic for its own good.
Stoney (Fonda) and Shuck (Kristoffersen) are best friends and sheep ranchers who have worked their "piece of dirt" in North Dakota for years and years. Stoney, a man of very few words, treasures only a few things in his simple life: the camaraderie with Shuck and his horse Dakota, and receiving cards from his daughter each year.
One year, no card comes. Worried, Stoney makes the rare trip to civilization by way of Minneapolis to find out what happened. He discovers that his daughter had tricked him into coming down, so that she could admit him into the hospital for medical treatment for his heart.
Stoney resists, but an aneurism knocks him out and he comes to in a hospital bed, looking at his daughter and grandson Charles (Joe Mazzello), a snotty teenage boy obsessed with his laptop. He's not happy about his surroundings.
And then Shuck arrives, to spring his pal from the hospital. As thinking critically is not one of Shuck's many merits, he smuggles out Stoney and Charles -- now along for the ride so his grandfather can make a man out of him -- with a hijacked hearse and makes for North Dakota. Soon the FBI pursues, led by an overzealous agent, with help from the Spratt brothers (a trio of clueless goons who constantly feud with Stoney). But more important than evading the law will be Stoney's commitment to instilling some of his values into his grandson, and maybe, just maybe, make him a "wooly boy."
Wooly Boys is a charming piece of family fare. It's funny and moving, well-acted and entertaining. Peter Fonda and Kris Kristoffersen are a lot of fun to watch, playing off each other as rustic, foul-tempered hillbillies. And I always enjoy movies where a whiny little weenie teenager learns the ropes of life and shoves his arm into a sheep's uterus to pull out a baby lamb.
The only problem is the duality of the film. Wooly Boys vacillates between screwball, slapstick comedy and heart-rending family drama. What's jarring is the dramatically different tones of these competing genres. The comedy side of the film depends on sight gags and goofy music and over-the-top slapstick. For example, there's Owen Spratt, the local cop with an itchy trigger finger who gets trapped in a stinky outhouse with his brother, and the FBI agent, who is a slimy, stupid little puke trying to win his first bust by taking down a couple of senile sheep herders. And all of these zany hijinks happen with the obligatory cheesy background music blaring from behind.
This stylistic tack, I feel, detracts from some of the serious drama that plays out between the characters. Stoney and Shuck are funny not because they're goofy caricatures of sheep herders, but because they are sheep herders, and juxtaposing them with a metropolitan area or the tech-savvy Charles elicits humorous situations. The most rewarding material here is the straight family drama that materializes between grandfather and grandson, as well as the relationship between two old curmudgeon best friends. Basically, I think that this good movie would have been better if the filmmakers had toned down the slapsticky stuff and allowed the humor to grow naturally from the characters and their interactions with each other. Still, Wooly Boys is a fine movie and a solid piece of inoffensive family-friendly entertainment.
Surprise -- a barebones release from Lions Gate! The sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the highlight of the technical achievements. Just trailers for extras.
For a family movie night, I'd certainly recommend Wooly Boys. It's a good time with a good message. Unfortunately, there are several instances when it seems like there are two movies competing with each other, and that detracts from the really good stuff.
Not guilty, but just a few steps below being a "shear" delight...
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG