Accidental Texan

Accidental Texan is the type of movie that makes you ask, “Who was this made for?” It’s not really about Texas culture, unless you consider every cliché regarding the Lone Star state to be true. Oil drilling – a most Texan activity - provides the backdrop for the story; however, it treats the subject with too much frivolousness to be interesting or informative. The film isn’t funny enough to appeal to comedy fans, dramatic enough to appeal to drama fans, or exciting enough to appeal to viewers looking for a few thrills.

The main character is Erwin Vandeveer (Rudy Pankow), an aspiring actor who gets fired from his first big acting role. Dejected, he hits the road to head back home. His car breaks down in the tiny town of Buffalo Gap, Texas, a place where everybody knows everybody else and the same waitress, Faye (Carrie-Anne Moss), pours their coffee day and night. As tropes dictate, his vehicle will take several days to repair, leaving him stranded. Enter Merle Luskey (Thomas Haden Church), a washed-up oil driller who hopes Erwin can use his fancy book-learnin’ to help him pinpoint a massive well.

Would it surprise you to learn that the feeling-like-a-failure Erwin ends up finding his purpose in oil drilling? Or that Merle and Faye have unspoken feelings for one another? Or that there’s a nasty bank officer eager to foreclose on Merle’s business? And of course, there’s a crazy old coot who may be the key to striking oil, provided Merle and Erwin can convince him to help. Bruce Dern has a habit of playing such characters, as he does again here.

An interesting movie could be made about the process of figuring out where and how to drill for oil, but instead of instructing us, Accidental Texan uses the subject to tell a story filled with contrivances. Two separate scenes involve a character conveniently overhearing important information, which is the cheapest way possible to advance a narrative. There’s even a ticking clock finale where the guys have to hit oil before 5:00 or Merle goes bankrupt. The film brings this gimmick right down to the wire like a basketball player trying to throw the winning shot before the buzzer rings. You won't find an original or clever note anywhere.

It’s a foregone conclusion how the story will end, so there’s no suspense, either. The plot sets everything up at the beginning so we know exactly what will happen each step of the way. There’s nothing to do except sit and watch it take 104 minutes to reach the precise outcome we know it’s headed for.

Thomas Haden Church and Carrie-Anne Moss give respectable performances with weak material. Ironically, though, bad actor Erwin is played by an actor who gives a bland, unconvincing performance. Rather than personality, Pankow invests him with an obnoxious quality that feels artificial from beginning to end. Accidental Texan’s incessant predictability might have been less bothersome with a more charismatic protagonist. The movie doesn’t have one, leaving its other flaws to spew forth like the geyser of oil Merle hopes to trigger.

out of four

Accidental Texan is rated PG-13 for strong language and brief violence. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan