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URBAN COWBOY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Travolta, Debra Winger, Scott Glenn, Madolyn Smith, Barry Corbin
Director: James Bridges
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 134 Minutes
Release Date: October 8, 2002

“You a real cowboy?”

“Depends on what you think a real cowboy is.”

“Can you 2-step?”

“Course.”

“Wanna prove it?”

Film ***1/2

Following the heels of his critical and box office success with Saturday Night Fever and Grease, John Travolta once again showcased his unbeatable dose of talent in Urban Cowboy, a movie that gave the actor another opportunity to display his ability to dance like no one else could, this time to the beat of a different kind of music, that of country. For me, the movie is a wonderful character piece and love story, and one of the best to come out of its time period. It adds up to a memorable mixture of love, mechanical bull riding, and some good old down-home music to boot.

Travolta plays Bud Davis, who at the beginning of the movie moves in with his aunt and uncle, hoping to find some easy work in Houston. His uncle provides him with a refinery job. By night, Bud finds an easy place to fit in at Gilley's, the local country and western bar. It is there that he discovers two life changing things; a talent for riding the mechanical bull, and a pretty girl named Sissy (Debra Winger), whom Bud falls for almost on the spot. Sooner than expected, the two are married and living together in a trailer.

Soon enough, Bud encounters a big time thorn in his side, a suspicious individual named Wes (Scott Glenn). Aside from being his primary opponent on the mechanical bull, Wes gets into numerous brawls with Bud, and threatens to steal Sissy away from him forever when the two are going through a minor relationship setback. While Sissy engages in a fling with Wes, Bud finds himself wooed by a pretty rich girl Pam (Madolyn Smith), but it's pretty clear that neither Bud or Sissy are happy apart, and it's Bud who approaches Sissy in a heartfelt speech in the movie's climax that is absolutely winning.

Growing up in the south, it's kind of ironic to note that I've never been a fan of country music, and yet Urban Cowboy is a movie filled left and right with country songs, and I had no problem adjusting to the sound and beat of it. It's hard not to get swept up by Johnny Lee's memorable song “Looking for Love (In all the Wrong Places)”. Speaking of which, numerous musicians make appearances in the movie, mainly as performing acts at Gilley's, including Johnny Lee, The Charlie Daniels Band, and Bonnie Raitt. Like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack to Urban Cowboy has remained strong over the years, still popping up on shelves in music stores, as I've noticed at least.

This movie may test one's sappy side, as it is a love story at heart, but the charisma of John Travolta helps in making Urban Cowboy one of the star's best entries in his early days.

Video ***

To be honest, this is a lot better than I expected it to be. Paramount is hard to predict when transferring movies from this era. Luckily, the transfers on the recent releases for Grease and Saturday Night Fever have been rare cases of stunning presentations, and the video job on Urban Cowboy is yet another surprise. This is my first time experiencing the movie in widescreen, and the anamorphic quality is bright and shining most of the way. Some of the sequences in the nightclub suffer a bit through softness, but these instances are few and far between, and they certainly do not distract. A much glorious presentation, indeed.

Audio ***1/2

After watching this disc, I can see why Paramount was so eager to label the new audio sound on the front of this package. Music is the driving force behind Urban Cowboy, and all of the honky-tonk sounds are brought to life in this extremely well conceived 5.1 audio track. All of the scenes set in Gilley's deliver stunning dynamic range, blending the music and crowd noise together seamlessly. Dialogue is heard in pure clarity, as well, making this an easily terrific listening experience.

Features **

This disc includes some archived rehearsal footage, as well as outtakes, of various dance and bull riding sequences with John Travolta and Debra Winger.

Summary:

Some may think of it as the country-western Saturday Night Fever, but Urban Cowboy can definitely hold its own, guided by a heartfelt love story and memorable performances by Travolta and Winger. A Texas Two Step classic, if there is such a thing.