Pure Country 1 & 2
Pure Country (February 17/11)
In Pure Country, George Strait stars as Dusty Chandler - a country-music superstar who literally walks away from his expensive tour to spend some time in his old hometown. There, Dusty reconnects with his beloved grandmother (Molly McClure's Ivy) and meets (and falls for) a local horse rancher (Isabel Glasser's Harley Tucker) - with Dusty's happiness eventually threatened by the arrival of his pushy manager (Lesley Ann Warren's Lula) and an ambitious would-be singer (Kyle Chandler's Buddy Jackson). Before any of the plot kicks in, however, Pure Country opens with a solid 20 minutes of Dusty's music - which initially lends the proceedings the feel of a filmed concert. (The songs are pretty decent, admittedly, yet it's impossible not to wish filmmaker Christopher Cain would just get on with it already). The movie subsequently does improve substantially once the plot kicks in, with the inherently compelling nature of the premise inevitably compensating for the overly deliberate pace and Strait's heartfelt yet far-from-accomplished performance. The romantic subplot between Strait and Glasser's respective characters goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's affable atmosphere, and although the couple's fake break-up is especially egregious and needless, Pure Country does recover for an unexpectedly touching finale that ensures the film concludes on a high note. (There is, however, no denying that the movie is often too slow for its own good, which cements the feeling that the whole thing would've benefited from another pass through the editing bay.)
Pure Country 2: The Gift (February 18/11)
A sequel in name only, Pure Country 2: The Gift follows aspiring country singer Bobbie Thomas (Katrina Elam) as she moves to Nashville in the hopes of making it as a big-time performer - with complications ensuing as Bobbie inevitably discovers the true cost of fame and fortune. It's a reasonably workable premise that's squandered right from the get-go by Christopher Cain, as the filmmaker opens the proceedings with a remarkably stupid sequence in which three angels (Michael McKean's Joseph, Bronson Pinchot's Matthew, and Cheech Marin's Pedro) bless a newborn baby with a beautiful singing voice. (The child, of course, grows up to become the central character.) It's worth noting, however, that the film does temporarily improves as the storyline segues into its small-town-girl-makes-it-big phase, with the slowly-paced yet watchable atmosphere persisting right up until screenwriters Cain and Dean Cain (!) begin emphasizing elements of a decidedly heavy-handed nature (ie Bobbie abandons the band members that originally helped her out). There's little doubt that Pure Country 2: The Gift consequently peters out to an almost astonishing degree, as Cain offers up one ill-conceived sequence after another and even manages to blow the cameo appearance by George Strait (ie the country singer isn't playing his character from the first movie but rather himself, which doesn't make a lick of sense and indicates that there are two figures in that universe that look and sound exactly like George Strait). By the time the eye-rolling conclusion rolls around, Pure Country 2: The Gift has established itself as a shockingly bottom-of-the-barrel endeavor that's certain to leave even the most ardent fans of the original film annoyed and frustrated.