Dolly's too busy being a star to do justice to role of battered woman

September 23, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Dolly Parton tries to go the way of Farrah Fawcett in "Wild Texas Wind," at 9 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). She's looking to revitalize her acting career and has chosen the black, blue and battered route that brought Fawcett back in "The Burning Bed" in 1984.

This is news to you only if you have missed the supermarket checkout lines where, for the past two months -- on the cover of almost any tabloid that would have her -- Parton has appeared in a photo taken from a scene in which she is badly beaten. Not since Vanna White's "Goddess of Love" has such a bad made-for-TV movie received so much good advance publicity.

One reason this film is so bad is that, although Parton has considerable acting talent, she is no Fawcett. But the biggest problem is that the film exploits the issue of abusive relationships. Any viewers who might be hoping for insight into similar relationships are likely to be more confused when the movie ends than when it began.

"Wild Texas Wind" is really a battered-woman musical, with the bruises playing second fiddle to the songs Parton sings every few minutes to keep the film from totally falling apart.

In the film, Parton plays Thiola Rayfield, a relentlessly upbeat country-and-western singer who falls in love with a nightclub owner, played by Gary Busey. He becomes her manager and then almost her murderer, too. Rayfield is Big T in a country band called Big T and the Texas Wheel. Big T's best friend and leader of the band is Ben Rayson, played by Ray Benson of "Asleep at the Wheel." The rest of the script is every bit as clever as the way they came up with the name of Benson's character.

Extra cleverness went into getting Parton into more costumes than Joan Collins wore in the last episode of "Dynasty."

In the end, there is no one to blame for this mess but Parton. She's the executive producer and she gets credit for the "story," which means the film was her idea.

Unlike Fawcett who looked like a battered woman and made you believe she was a battered woman, Parton looks superstar gorgeous in every scene except a couple at the very end. Parton is still too much into being a beautiful-person/celebrity to be a real actress. Her slavish devotion to her glamorous image as country-western-superstar is what does this film in. "Wild Texas Wind" is long on Parton in tight-fitting outfits singing "Yippee-Ki-Yee-Ki-Yii," and way too short on story, insight and genuine empathy for victims of domestic violence.

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