It's easy to forget how big of a country music star George Strait was when his first movie Pure Country was released in 1992. He had released 26 Top Ten country radio hits in a row since 1981 - and 22 of them went to number one on the charts.
Given that, a movie that featured Strait playing an exaggerated version of himself should have been box office gold. But it only made $15 million at the box office and was considered a disappointment, even though it only cost $10 million and ended up spawning two direct-to-DVD sequels.
Strait plays Dusty Chandler, a country music superstar who is growing weary of the spotlight. He feels disconnected from the music and overwhelmed by the circus of smoke, lights and hangers-on that comes with being a household name.
When he discovers longtime manager Lula Rogers (Lesley Ann Warren) has convinced him to record a song written by her boyfriend and crew member Buddy Jackson (Kyle Chandler), he loses it and disappears into the heartland of America to escape.
The rest of the film is essentially a reverse Hallmark Channel movie. Successful singer returns to his hometown and rediscovers himself and what he most needs to soothe his soul.
There are all the familiar story beats - the stumbling love affair, the unexpected discovery of betrayal. And I don't think I'm giving anything away to reveal that after a few twists, it all works out in the end.
Maybe it's because he was playing a heightened version of himself, but George Strait does a solid job with the role. He's a old-school country boy to the core and is very believable as the small town boy who is a bit flummoxed by his success.
Isabel Glasser does a really nice job as Strait's small-town love interest Harley Tucker and I am rather shocked she didn't have a bigger career after this film. Chandler oozes the perfect slimy opportunism in his portrayal of the guy who is willing to do anything to become a star.
The rest of the ensemble is equally solid. Rory Calhoun (in his last movie role) is perfectly cast as Harley's protective father Ernest Tucker and Molly McClure plays Dusty's Grandma Ivy Chandler. And a special nod to John Doe, who has a few memorable scenes as Dusty's longtime drummer and friend Earl Blackstock.
The one role I struggled with was Lesley Ann Warren's take on the ambitious manager Lula Rogers. She's brash and hard-edged and I suppose that is a dead-on take of the personality required to push Dusty into stardom. But at least in my eyes, she never quite finds the groove of the character. In some scenes she strikes the perfect tone and in others she chews up the scenery with the frantic movements of a chainsaw threatening to throw a chain. I generally love her work, but this isn't one of my favorite roles of hers.
While the movie wasn't a box office hit, the soundtrack was a smash. "I Cross My Heart" and "Heartland" both went to #1 on the country charts and the third single from the album ("When Did You Stop Loving Me") went to #6. The "Pure Country" soundtrack album went platinum six times and was the first Strait album to be produced by Tony Brown.
Brown went on to produce every Strait album until 2015 "Cold Beer Conversation," and that partnership cranked out 54 more Top Ten country hits.
Strait is a genuine country music star and seeing this movie makes me wish he'd done more serious acting roles. But despite my slight concerns about parts of the movie, "Pure Country" is also pure rom-com and the perfect date night for those couples who don't mind a bit of nineties-era country music in their life.
And watching the film again made me realize I'd love to see a remake of this film with Miranda Lambert in the lead role.
Pure Country can be watched for free on the ad-supported services Pluto and Tubi.
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