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Paramount Studios presents
"All cowboys ain't dumb. Some of 'em got smarts real good, like me."
DVD ReviewJohn Travolta has bloated into a lazy marquee movie star in recent years, and it's sometimes hard to remember why he ever was famous in the first place. The answer, of course, is "a white polyester bodysuit," with an assist from the Bee Gees. Yes, Travolta's career-making performance in 1977's Saturday Night Fever created a national craze for ill-fitting suits, and his "eh, yeah, ya know" charms as Tony Manero won him an Oscar® nomination. But really, it was the dancing. When Travolta steps on to the dance floor, you lose track of his chiseled chin and aggressive eyebrows and focus on his feet, flying fast and furious. But let's not get too poetic.
Urban Cowboy is a rather obvious cash-in on the success of Fever, and it repeats many of the same themes and plot points, merely transferring them into a honky-tonk western bar-with-a-mechanical-bull setting. The results are somewhat less endearing, and certainly not as enduring. Fever is still remembered as a classic; Urban Cowboy lives on only in the hearts and minds of Travolta-lovers and late night viewers of TNT.
Travolta plays Bud Davis, oil refinery worker by day, sexy Stetson stud by night. His line-dancing skills wow the pants off of the patrons at Gilley's, Huston's most popular nightclub. But the only pants he wishes to wow are those of the sassy Sissy (Debra Winger), a regular at the bar, who is looking for a real cowboy. Complicating things is ex-con Wes Hightower, brought to life by character actor Scott Glenn (witness the nightlife of Jack Crawford!). Hightower has designs on Sissy and on the registers at Gilley's, and it's up to Bud to stop the criminal and heel-heel-toe-toe-star his way into the heart of his leading lady.
The script, co-written by director James Bridges, is riddled with romance clichés, but the predictability is reminiscent of the feel of a broken-in pair of leather chaps. There is real chemistry between Travolta and Winger, and the two inject plenty of life into their stock roles. Sadly, Bridges is no John Badham when it comes to filming the many dance sequences, and the static setups and dull camerawork sap some of the energy from Travolta's floor-burning performances. More lively are the testosterone contests on the mechanical bulls (and here the long takes show just how much abuse the stars were willing to take).
Urban Cowboy contributed to a brief country & western craze, and the soundtrack, featuring Bonnie Raitt and The Charlie Daniels Band, among others, went triple platinum. The film itself is fairly disposable fun. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but the wooden dialogue and static characters constantly nagged at me, and Bud's desire to be a star on the dance floor is never as desperate or visceral as Tony Manero's. Eminently watchable and utterly forgettable, Urban Cowboy can at least be praised for having the good sense to put Travolta in a movie and let him dance. Now where's my five-gallon hat?
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Paramount's remaster of Urban Cowboy yields some mildly pleasing results; this is a decent vintage transfer. Source material shows some grain but is generally clean. Colors are fairly solid, and detail is good. On the downside, blacks are uneven, and shadow detail is somewhat lacking, making some of the smoky interior scenes a bit difficult to make out. There is also some occasional edginess and some mild aliasing. On the other hand, this has always been a rather ugly film with a muddled visual palette, so I can't complain too much.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Once again, Paramount has blessed an older film with a serviceable 5.1 DD remaster (there is also an additional 2.0 English mix, along with a mono French track). The 5.1 track is decent, adding a bit of oomph to the rather limited original mix. The audio is still very front heavy, with dialogue anchored in the center channel, with the music and effects mixed into the mains. Music can sound a bit tinny in the high ends, but comes across fairly cleanly throughout. Surrounds are used sparingly, only providing some crowd atmosphere at times.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsUrban Cowboy is a mostly lifeless retread of the vastly superior Saturday Night Fever that survives on 1980s charm and John Travolta's dancin' feet. It will never be more than a guilty pleasure, and with a bloated two-hours-plus running time, you'll feel mighty ashamed afterwards.
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