Rustlers’ Rhapsody

March 20, 2012

Even if it were a good movie, Rustlers’ Rhapsody would still have an air of superfluousness about it. Just how many spoofs of Western movies do we need?

Certainly Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles seemed sufficient. Nearly every handy Western cliché took a roasting over the campfire there. Still, there may be room for the occasional camp item such as the recent Lust in the Dust.

But Rustlers’ Rhapsody goes over much the same ground—and, of course, with similar targets—as Brooks’s film. And it keep the anachronistic tone of Blazing Saddles, too; characters in this 1885 plot are likely to break out into some strictly 1985 phrase-making (example: The hero turns to his loyal sidekick and announces he wants to be alone by saying, “Hey, I’ve got to have some me-time”).

Which means that there are a few funny bits. Tom Berenger (the TV star in The Big Chill) plays the squeaky-clean Rex O’Herlihan, hero to millions of movie fans. O’Herlihan always does good, and he can draw his gun faster than any bad guy could ever hope.

He’s suffering from a touch of weariness, though. He’s noticed that his life is cyclical: with each new plot, he goes into another small town, gets menaced by another power-hungry rancher, is aided by another town drunk, is befriended by another saloon girl.

When he meets the saloon girl (Marilu Henner) in Oakwood Estates, he guesses that, underneath that flashy exterior, she has a heart of gold. “How’d you know that?” asks the town drunk (G.W. Bailey). “Oh, I just knew,” says Rex, mysteriously.

It goes like that. The power-hungry cattle baron (Andy Griffith) tells his mean bunch of outlaws to kill Rex. When they return unsuccessful, he invites them in “for a gab” anyway. They edge away nervously. “Gee, I don’t know,” says one. “It’s a weeknight.”

These are the good jokes. Most of the film relies on O’Herlihan’s ornate costumes or trick riding to induce some chuckles. Actually, some of the funniest scenes involve Patrick Wayne, the son of the Duke, who turns up late as a fellow good guy hired away by Griffith. This puts both heroes in a quandary: since they’re both white knights, they both have to win at the end.

Rustlers’ Rhapsody is written and directed by Hugh Wilson. At one time, as the main force behind “WKRP in Cincinnati,” he may have seemed like a promising talent. But his directing debut last year, the wildly popular Police Academy, displayed nothing but bad taste. With the success of that film, he had the chance to do whatever he wanted—and Rustlers’ Rhapsody is it. Okay, he’s got one more chance to make good—then we throw in the towel.

First published in the Herald, May 14, 1985

I think this movie is probably funnier than I make it sound, but maybe I’m conveniently forgetting the most obvious jokes. The thread with Andy Griffith is pretty hilarious, and for some strange reason I have thought of that “It’s a weeknight” line a number of times in the years since I saw the picture. Wilson forged ahead with his career, which delivered some okay items but also the occasional complete stiff, such as the shockingly inept Dudley Do-Right.