Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I feel like I should be writing something about the Lost finale this morning, considering that it's dominating my brain, and it prevented me from having anything close to a decent night's sleep. However, this is a movie blog, not a TV or pop culture blog, and besides, I don't want to send myself down the rabbit hole of theorizing about what it all meant. (For the record, though, I was very satisfied with it.)

Instead, I'll write about something as opposite from Lost as any piece of "art" can be -- a good old boy action comedy starring a popular country singer who's also an icon of American patriotism and/or hatred of foreigners.

Which doesn't mean, unfortunately, that I didn't like it.

I've discussed before that I'll review almost any movie that doesn't currently have a review on my site, and I'll choose it with all the more gusto if I predict that I'll hate it. Hatred is a very easy perspective to take in a film review, and it can lead to a person's funniest, most colorful writing.

Beer For My Horses, then, seemed like a movie that would be off the charts in terms of my hatred of it. Not only did it figure to be stupid -- I mean, just look at that poster -- but it also figured to be racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and every other negative thing I attribute to the worst conservatives out there. After all, it stars Toby Keith.

In case you need a refresher on the events of 2001, a bunch of Muslim extremists hijacked four airplanes, flying two of them into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon, while the fourth, which may have been headed for the White House, was crashed into a Pennsylvania field by its passengers.

Not long afterward, Keith wrote a song called "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue," which immediately became a lightning rod for controversy. With good reason. Want a couple sample lyrics?

Soon as we could see clearly
Through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world
Like the 4th of July

A reference to the retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan by the U.S. military.

And then:

When you hear mother freedom
Start ringing her bell
And it feels like the whole wide world is rainin' down on you
Brought to you courtesy of the red, white & blue


Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you'll be sorry you messed with
The U.S. of A.
'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass
It's the American way

Okay. So I'm all ready to watch Beer For My Horses, then tear into Toby Keith for 300 words or so.

Didn't happen like that.

Oh, this movie is macho and American alright. It concerns a team of Oklahoma police officers who stake out a spot where there have been reports of fertilizer theft, and cross paths with a Mexican drug ring specializing in the production and sale of crystal meth. And the movie is damn near a product placement for Ford trucks. Keith actually shills for Ford, if not officially, then at least unofficially. There's a segment on the DVD, before the movie starts, in which Ford trucks are overtly praised -- the F-150, specifically.

But every time I thought the movie was going to reveal, and revel in, its patriotism/jingoism/xenophobia, it didn't go that way. The conflict with the Mexicans, for example, seemed like a perfect opportunity for a line of dialogue to the effect of "They should go back to where they came from." But no such line of dialogue ever materializes, and the closest you'd get to an overt disrespect for the Mexicans, as such, is Keith ending a line of dialogue with "Comprende?" That's the age-old convention for "I mean the shit I am saying to you, person who speaks Spanish."

If this were a conventional Hollywood film, rather than a film financed by CMT (Country Music Television), they would probably have to have at least one Mexican character who was as angelically good as the drug dealers are bad. But I don't attribute the lack of that character to be an actual negative commentary by the filmmakers.

What's more, I was surprised to see a line of dialogue that actually made fun of Barbara Bush. They're talking about the Quaker oats man, and Keith says, "You mean that guy who looks like Barbara Bush?" If the movie's intention were merely to push forward a conservative agenda, surely they would not tease a sacred cow like that, totally unprovoked.

And so yeah, I found the film to be light and affable. Did I like it like it? It's hard to say. It is eminently competent, and plenty likable at times. Plus there's a really funny turn by Ted Nugent as a crazy cop who has a hunting knife, a crossbow and a machine gun for each hand in his arsenal. I found myself inclined to laugh whenever Nugent was on screen.

What's more, the film had a pretty legit supporting cast. I had never heard of co-star Rodney Carrington, who is Keith's comic relief -- I have to assume he comes from the Redneck Comedy Tour (or whatever it's called) or some such origins. But the rest of the cast was pretty well known: Claire Forlani, Tom Skerritt, Barry Corbin, Gina Gershon. In other words, people I don't necessarily associate with staunch conservative politics (especially Gershon).

And Keith himself? More than capable. Pretty easygoing, and can deliver his lines effectively.

I feel like I should really hate myself for the fact that I am not going to write a scathing review of Beer For My Horses, but in researching Keith I found out a couple more things about him that may place this film in a context it's easier to understand. For example, although he's a patriot, he has never actually classified himself as a Republican. That's right, he called himself a "conservative Democrat who is sometimes embarrassed for his party" in 2004. He did get into a public spat with noted Democrats the Dixie Chicks over his infamous song, and he did support Bush for reelection in 2004. But in a 2007 interview he said he "never did" support the Iraq War. He supposedly has a close personal relationship with New Mexico governor Bill Richardson (a Democratic Latino). And in August 2008, after previously praising Obama's speaking and potential leadership skills, he described Obama as "the best candidate we've had since Bill Clinton." The usage of the term "we" was fairly short-lived, as he soon re-registered as an independent and said he would probably vote for the Republican ticket because of his admiration for Sarah Palin. (Points lost there.) However, about a year ago, he also said he supported Obama and was taking a wait-and-see approach. (And that's the last wikipedia has about his political views.)

So I guess Toby Keith is a good example of the nuances we would like to think we're all capable of having -- the way our beliefs can shift and adjust within a predictable overall framework. He's more complicated than I ever would have given him credit for.

Complicated, kind of like the limited affection I feel for his movie.

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