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The Cowboy Way Reviews

THE COWBOY WAY is a hackneyed fish-out-of-water story that represents a false step in Woody Harrelson's journey from "Woody the dumb bartender" to "Woody the respected actor"; for Keifer Sutherland, meanwhile, it's just another stop on the way from "Keifer the promising young actor" to "Keifer who?" Latter-day cowboys Sonny Gilstrap (Sutherland) and Pepper Lewis (Harrelson), who grew up together on the rodeo circuit, have become the most formidable rodeo team in the nation. On the day of the national championships in Las Vegas, though, the unreliable Pepper cannot be found, robbing the pair of a possible title. Sonny had hoped to use his half of the prize money to open his own ranch. The team splits up, and for a year Sonny gives his ex-partner the cold shoulder. Only the disappearance of their mutual friend, an old Mexican named Nacho, can bring about their reluctant reunion. Nacho's trail leads them to New York City, where he had intended to smuggle his daughter, Teresa (Cara Buono), into the United States along with a boatload of Cubans. The men who control the smuggling operation run a textile sweatshop on the waterfront, exacting a few months of slave labor from the immigrants in exchange for safe passage. Never having traveled East of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sonny and Pepper are understandably dazzled by the sheer size and eccentric inhabitants of New York City. After finding their way to Little Havana and getting thrown out of its most popular watering hole, La Habanita, the pair enlist the help of mounted policeman Sam Shaw (Ernie Hudson) and eventually track Nacho down--to the city morgue. Now bent on revenge, they end up back at La Habanita, which is run by the sweat shop's proprietor, Mr. Stark (Dylan McDermott). Stark has had enough of their snooping by now and decides to have the two bumpkins killed and to sell Teresa, presumably into a fate worse than death (though it is not clear who the buyer would be). Though they evade Stark, Sonny and Pepper decide to part ways again: Sonny to track down Stark and, ultimately, get caught by one of his henchmen, Pepper to pursue high-class women at a ritzy fashion party. Stark conveniently appears at the same party and bolts upon recognizing Pepper, who figures his friend is in trouble and sets out to save him. With Sam's help, Pepper rescues Sonny and the two launch a horseback chase through the streets and subways of New York. When they finally catch up with Stark, they use their rodeo skills to rope him to the back of a speeding subway train. There's nothing new to be found in this cynically contrived formula film; this narrative vein has been mined over and over, particularly since the surprise success of Paul Hogan's "CROCODILE" DUNDEE. Nor does THE COWBOY WAY make for a particularly good buddy movie, since Harrelson and Sutherland display little chemistry together (blame the script and Sutherland; Harrelson bonded charmingly with Wesley Snipes in the well-written WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP). Fortunately for Harrelson, his performance in here was almost completely forgotten by summer, 1994, amidst the deluge of hype surrounding Oliver Stone's NATURAL BORN KILLERS. (Violence, sexual situations, profanity.)