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Film review: Cowboy Way, The

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Yet another fish-out-of-water thriller-comedy-buddy picture, "The Cowboy Way" plays like a movie that was conceived, written and directed by a committee, whose charge was to come up with a concept to bring in a young audience that cares more about mindless action and stupid, vulgar comedy than story, character or any notion of reality.

Kiefer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson play Sonny and Pepper, lifelong pals in New Mexico, redneck cowpokes who have grown up on the rodeo circuit, bucking broncs and roping calves. But they've had some mysterious rift, apparently brought on when Harrelson failed to show for the national rodeo finals. As a result, Sutherland bears a grudge, which hangs a cloud over their relationship through most of the movie. The idea is to give them a reason for constant comic bickering, but the result is more childish and annoying.

The plot kicks into gear when an older friend of theirs (Joaquin Martinez) disappears in New York City. He had gone there to pick up his daughter, who was brought in from Cuba as an illegal immigrant.

So, of course, Sonny and Pepper head to Manhattan to find their friend, where they are, of course, perceived as rubes as they track down the villain (Dylan McDermott, last seen as Clint Eastwood's partner in "In the Line of Fire"), who is exploiting immigrant workers as slave labor.

Along the way, they link up with a mounted policeman (Ernie Hudson, playing a role similar to his cop in "The Crow"), who helps them find their friend and his daughter.

Though most of the film's intended laughs are generated by the lowest of low-brow ideas, the worst element is the complete lack of logic in everything Sonny and Pepper do and say. These guys are supposed to travel all over the country on the rodeo circuit, yet they are utterly naive. And in the end, the question of the daughter being an illegal immigrant is simply ignored, as everyone drives off into the sunset.

Worse, however, the performances are a mix of styles that simply don't gel. Harrelson adopts a familiar persona, a cocky wiseguy who is slightly dumb. Sutherland simply glowers a lot. Meanwhile, McDermott is seriously dramatic, even providing a strange subtext as a criminal who is wounded by the father figure he works for, yet most of what he does also makes little sense.

Ernie Hudson fares best, with a sweet, lighthearted, helpful character, of the kind we would like to think might exist in New York, whether he does or not.

Hudson's work also seems to more directly fit the movie's intentions. Too much of the material here is surprisingly mean-spirited, and it's certainly darker than you will expect from the ads, with some very brutal violence.

"The Cowboy Way" is rated PG-13, though it is rough enough in places to warrant an R, for considerable violence and profanity, as well as sexual content and nudity.