After a respectable start out of the gate, this family drama of the horsey set eventually falls behind. Unlike the eponymous stallion hero, PRIMO BABY doesn't regain its footing by the finish line.
Esther Purvis-Smith, a young actress of Runyonesque looks and mannerisms, plays Paschal Draney, a tomboy delinquent who works as a runner for bookies at Canadian race tracks. Her uncaring father in jail, Paschal is assigned a foster home with Charles Armstrong (Duncan Regehr), a prestigious
Alberta horse breeder. But Charles isn't so much interested in the girl's welfare as in finding a friend for teenage son Clancy (Tim Battle). In a wheelchair since the car accident that killed Mrs. Armstrong, Clancy's a self-pitying snob obsessed with the computerized champion-breeding program
he's devised, and he wants no part of scruffy Paschal.
She's equally scornful of Clancy and the whole high-class household, but strikes a deal to stay if she can care for Primo Baby, a thoroughbred of illustrious lineage but otherwise doomed to the slaughterhouse because of a congenital eye defect that's made it almost blind. This horse was the first
product of Clancy's breeding program, but unable to bear the disability the younger Armstrong lavishes his attention on his second creation, a filly named Saygold. Paschal knows that Primo's got the equine right stuff, and determines to train the unwanted animal to be a winner.
Actually, the first half of PRIMO BABY focuses almost exclusively on the humans, setting up Paschal's longing for her absent dad, Clancy's secret gambling habit, Charles's unresolved guilt over his wife's death and so on. Obviously everybody's going to end up healing everybody else in melodramatic
sessions of cliche therapy, and the horses seem almost incidental, largely relegated to the sidelines despite portentious gab about Primo's gallantry and Saygold's promise. The movie probably would have been better had the beasts remained secondary, for things get silly when Paschal secretly
enters Primo in the Calgary Cup race.
Officials refuse to admit a blind horse onto the track, whereupon Paschal raises a stink in the media that allegedly causes a firestorm of handicapped-animal-rights protests (we see one measly picket sign). Primo is granted an eye test, and while that conjures up hilarious images of the horse in
an ophthalmologist's office reading letters off a wall chart it's really just an obstacle course that the beast passes in cliffhanger fashion. Primo gets to run in the event, all right, with Saygold nearby to act as a seeing-eye horse. At last comes the moment of truth, and Primo falls hopelessly
behind. Of course he then rallies and comes in alongside Saygold, the tag team taking the trophy for the Armstrong Ranch.
The closing should live forever as a shining example of how not to end a film: the image area shrinks to a tiny box in which micro-thespians play out the final scenes, while the rest of the frame fills with a credit scroll and a booming pop tune (one of several on the soundtrack) vies with the
dialogue for attention. Maybe it's decipherable on a wide cinema screen, but this Canadian production reached the US market on video. Those in search of elusive family entertainment will find it harmless, and nothing can dwarf that majestic Calgary scenery.
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: After a respectable start out of the gate, this family drama of the horsey set eventually falls behind. Unlike the eponymous stallion hero, PRIMO BABY doesn't regain its footing by the finish line. Esther Purvis-Smith, a young actress of Runyonesque looks… (more)