If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the production team that created "Texasville" rode a six-lane superhighway straight to the epicenter of the ninth circle of the inferno, laughing and drinking Lone Star beer all the way.
The movie, a sequel to Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show," written and directed by Bogdanovich himself, recycles the stars of that 1972 film after 20-odd years of hard living, prosperity and failure, and reunites them in the still-dying town of Witchita Falls where everybody's still sleeping with everybody else, though nobody seems to be having any fun at all.
It could have been so brilliant; instead, it's a sad, sad footnote to have to append to one of the great movies of the early '70s and the now-ruined career of a man who'd once been one of the most promising directors of his generation. And to look upon the landscape of ruin that is this film is to despair, like the traveler encountering Ozymandias' head in the sand. There's Timothy Bottoms, whom the original movie made a star, in a vague, dispirited performance as a vague, dispirited man.
There's Cybill Shepherd, the Memphis teen-age model also catapulted to fame by the original, who now -- several careers later -- is still trying to do a good job in a movie and still failing. There are -- look quickly, for they are but glimpsed -- Ellen Brennan, Cloris Leachman and Randy Quaid, all looking as if they've just played on the goal-line suicide defense squad of SMU against Texas A&M.
Mostly there is Jeff Bridges, as good old boy Duane (that's pronounced Texas-style, son, as in, Doo-ayne) Jackson, ex-football hero and town stud, now with a belly the size of a bushel of cotton, a thatch of gray hair, and a sad and fallen face. Duane, born poor, has been rich -- he lives in a $2 million house -- and has been a fruitful multiplier over the years (four kids, and his wife still has a 26-inch waist!).
But now he's poor. Just as "Last Picture Show" was made in the '70s but set in the '60s, so "Texasville," made in the '90s, is set a decade earlier. It's 1984: Reagan is running for re-election, the bottom has dropped out of the oil market and Duane is $12 million in debt, which has an impact on a man's appetites.
That's what "Texasville" turns out to be about, to the extent that it's about anything: diminished appetite, lack of zest, acceptance of death and the discomfort of being overtaken by your own children. Duane is a figure of melancholy; it's all slipping away on him, there's nothing to be done about it except wait for the bank to call in its note and to chuckle over his oldest boy's shenanigans in the sack, which rival his own lost youth.
If there's a source of energy in "Texasville," it's Annie Potts, who manages to keep the movie marginally watchable as Duane's hellion of a wife, who's taken a few tumbles her own self.
What plot there is revolves around the return of Jacy Farrow -- Shepherd -- and Duane's flicker of love for her still, and hers for him. But she too has diminished appetites: Her only son has died in an accident, her "career" as an actress has closed down with the onset of age lines and she's too wise for love. She and Duane are like old soldiers who fought on opposite sides of the same hill 20 years ago, now met to toss down a beer or two.
Poor Bogdanovich. Whatever gifts he had as a storyteller have all but vanished. This two-hour-long film moves by lurches and spurts, now and then creaking to life and calling up some extravagant Texas vulgarity, but almost completely lacking in drama. Everybody looks old and feels sorry for himself; the plot is of no account whatsoever, and everybody acts with a kind of sexual sloppiness that borders on the trashy.
When you see "Texasville," you'll wonder why they bothered to defend the Alamo.
'Texasville'Starring Jeff Bridges and Cybill
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Released by Columbia