It’s difficult to understand how a lively cast working from an impertinent script by two acclaimed novelists could create a completely charmless movie. But Cold Feet is just such an achievement.
The film is clearly intended as a lark, conceived as such by writers Tom McGuane (whose similar saga of the New West, Rancho Deluxe, had happier results) and Jim Harrison. However, the concept may be a bit too slight, too cute, too shaggy.
Cold Feet begins with a trio of lowlifes implementing a bizarre scheme in Mexico. They’ve laid their hands on a cache of emeralds and have had the gems surgically installed under the skin of a stallion. The horse passes through customs, and the three prepare to reap their fortune.
But then shiftless Monte (Keith Carradine) decides to take the horse and light out for his brother’s ranch in Montana. This causes some distress for Monte’s quasi-fiancee, Maureen (Sally Kirkland) and hit man Kenny (Tom Waits), who immediately follow Monte’s trail in their motorhome.
Things go awry when Monte gets to the ranch of his brother (Bill Pullman), as Kenny and Maureen carry out their demented road trip. Kenny, who habitually refers to himself in the third person, meditates wanly that, “Kenny don’t wanna grow old as just another murderer,” while Maureen pours herself into a variety of spandex atrocities while looking for the next dinner- or bed-mate, whichever comes first.
Eventually everything works out and people generally get what they deserve. But the film wears out its welcome pretty early on; the sardonic black humor (directed by Robert Dornhelm, of Echo Park) is laid on with a heavy glove.
Which leaves the actors. Carradine is quietly funny (“Aw, Maureen, don’t make me have sex”), perhaps because he lets his co-stars do the outrageous material. Sally Kirkland, a 1987 Oscar nominee for Anna, is about as ripe as it’s possible to be without actually beginning to rot.
Singer Tom Waits shows again that he is a diverting actor. Even when Cold Feet grinds down, Waits is liable to be throwing some rant about how put upon and misunderstood he is, how unfair life is for professional killers. He’s the bright spot here.
First published in The Herald, May 30, 1989
It does sound worth a look, at least for Waits. It didn’t cause much of a ripple at the time. Rip Town plays a sheriff, and Jeff Bridges appears unbilled as a bartender. Dornhelm must have an interesting life: born in Romania, Oscar-nominated for a very successful documentary, The Children of Theatre Street (about the Kirov), lots of TV in Hollywood and Europe. I have no idea whether the final product was what McGuane and Harrison planned, only that it’s hard to believe they couldn’t come up with something better than this.