As fate would have it, I first heard about this movie staying in a rancher friend’s guest house one fall when my Dad and I went to help him brand. It was in an old copy of Newsweek, I think that I saw a review for what seemed like a slacker western, a movie called “Rancho Deluxe.”
It was the 90’s then and slackers were the big cultural icon. I was a kid from rural West Texas who liked alternative rock and the idea of a slacker western was incredibly appealing to me. It would be quite a bit later before I ever got a chance to see “Rancho Deluxe,” but I’m happy to say that years of thinking about watching it didn’t erode it’s charm.
Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston play a couple of dope-smoking rustlers, running scams and one-at-a-timing prized steers to make the rent. Nothing in the movie is quite what it seems. Bridges’ character is a refugee from an upper class lifestyle, real-life blueblood Waterston plays a Native American, the big cattle baron they terrorize is beauty shop tycoon from Schenectady, NY, and well…I don’t want to spoil the movie, but pretty much every character has a secret or a scam. Everyone, from Slim Pickens’ range detective, to Harry Dean Stanton’s cowboy Burt, is trying to fill the role the environment (Big Sky Montana ranch country) demands of them. The West is always changing and trying to hang on to traditions simultaneously. The characters in “Rancho Deluxe” are all very real, modern people trying to live up to the legends and traditions of the Wild West in the age of Jimmy Carter and Watergate. This contrast provides a lot of the humor of the movie, but also, some poignancy.
The script, by novelist extraordinaire Thomas McGuane, is peculiar and funny and the sort of thing the Coens would specialize in a decade down the line. Too weird for the urban cowboy scene, too rural for the freaks; it’s a pity this movie, with all it’s odd characters and zingy dialogue, never found an audience in it’s own time.
Jeff Bridges and Harry Dean Stanton engage in showdown of sorts….over a game of Pong.
Like I said, it’s an odd movie, and I suspect it’s revival on DVD is due to Parrotheads who wanted it for footage of pre-beach bum Jimmy Buffett, who’s songs make up the soundtrack. If you like the Coen Brothers, especially when they’re doing crime/humor like Fargo and the Big Lebowski, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. If not, well, it’s a fine reminder of a time when Jimmy Buffett wasn’t so obnoxious.