There's the off-chance that the real Amberley Snyder, the author, motivational speaker, and young rodeo champ who uses a wheelchair, might happen upon this review. So to her I feel compelled to say, unequivocally, that you are awesome, and your story is remarkable and courageous. So much so that one could understand why someone would want to adapt it into a movie. Unfortunately, as directed by Conor Allyn and scripted by Sean Dwyer and Greg Cope White, Netflix's Walk. Ride. Rodeo. is pretty rough going, with bad acting, cheesy montages and moments of unintentional hilarity. This is one-hundred percent not on you, Amberley, and don't think ill of me for what I'm about to say.
Okay, with that off my chest: Good Lord.
Set in a make-believe version of Utah where everyone is blonde and beautiful, Walk. Ride. Rodeo., opens with our heroine Amberley (Spencer Locke) mid-ride at a rodeo competition. She is a barrel racer, which means she swerves her horse around a track littered with metal garbage pails. Amberley, on her trusty steed Power and wearing a pink shirt with the Purina logo, rounds each corner with ease. With steel guitar on the soundtrack and her mom (Missi Pyle) shouting encouragement, she's dubbed champion, but it's 1/10th of a second behind her personal best. To someone as driven as Amberley it isn't enough.
We check in with her at home, a vast estate with horses, younger siblings who also excel at sports, and a best pal accompanying her to college and prepping for a leadership conference at the Future Farmers of America. It's like some kind of purebred Americana fever dream and that's before she gets a call from her dad, a real-life professional baseball player coaching a team in Hawaii.
Amberley has a horse show in Colorado to get to, so she jumps in her truck even though Mom begs to drive her. On the road her GPS goes out of service so she unbuckles her safety belt for TWO SECONDS to grab a map from the passenger side and, blammo, that's when she flips over, flies out the window (rendered in cheapo CGI) and ends up slamming against a fence.
Good samaritans stop and call 911 and it slowly dawns on Amberley just how bad the accident is. The moment when she transitions from not feeling anything to experiencing excruciating pain is quite terrifying. There's a whole, tearful rigamarole of getting her to the right hospital (and reuniting her with Mom) that, quite frankly, feels like the type of thing most movies would just cut out. Perhaps this is some sort of art experiment to subvert our normal cinematic expectations. Or maybe they were just trying to pad this thing out to 90 minutes.
Missi Pyle (who I loved in Galaxy Quest) plays each scene so the folks in the back of the house can't miss a note. In the sequence where she first "gets the news" she is drowned out by music and I suspect it's because her original performance was just unusable. Dad (Bailey Chase), on the other hand, is so calm and stone-faced you kinda wonder if maybe Amberley isn't really his kid.
Anyway, she enters rehab where her nurse is a sassy black woman (Sherri Shepherd, for two or three scenes), naturally, who brings warmth with thinly-veiled Christian affirmations. Soon Amberley gets out of her funk and gets focused. Despite a severely damaged spine and an inability to walk, she is going to ride again.
Spencer Locke is far from a master thespian, but I am not a monster. When you see someone in physical and emotional pain slowly conquering their challenges, it can be rewarding. Especially when there's a horse involved! Amberley gets out of the hospital and back to the ranch and devises a system involving a seat belt in her saddle — ironic! — to start competing again. She's a natural and so is Power. There's a big tournament in Texas to prepare for, but also a crushing set-back. There's also the ridiculously handsome fellow rodeo-er Tate Watkins (Max Ehrich) who inspires Amberley to also get into motivational speaking.
I can't in good conscience recommend this movie to anyone who isn't stuck with grandma for the night and looking for something with no cussin' on the teevee. Despite the blood and broken bones in the early scenes, it's ultimately a very nice and wholesome ride. And, dammit, I can't lie to you: By the end, maybe I was a little bit misty-eyed. I was snorting at this cheeseball movie, but, dammit, Amberley Snyder's a good kid and she worked so hard to get back on the horse.
Walk. Ride. Rodeo is now on Netflix.
Jordan Hoffman is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, VanityFair.com, amNewYork, Thrillist and Times of Israel.