Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill

1995 Directed by Jeremiah Chechik. Starring Patrick Swayze, Oliver Platt, Roger Aaron Brown, Nick Stahl, Scott Glenn, Catherine O'Hara.

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., March 24, 1995

Watching Tall Tale is like exploring your grandmother's attic. Awash in amber light and shadowy corners and filled to the very rafters with old trunks and books and costumes and knick-knacks, it's an invitation to an afternoon of reverie. On the other hand, listening to this very same movie is like listening to your grandfather snore. Sophomorically amusing at the outset, its entertainment value soon takes a nose-dive. Indeed, Disney's latest period piece is more yin-yang than yee-hah, juxtaposing fascinating set design, breathtaking scenery, and stunning cinematography with an assembly-line plot, fill-in-the-blank dialogue and cartoonish Old West characters. Even the casting is hit and miss. Scott Glenn's pencil-thin study in black (and black hat) radiates consumptive corruption, but Oliver Platt's whiny Paul Bunyan is more self-serving bulge than heroic brawn and while Roger Aaron Brown shines as the mallet-toting John Henry, Catherine O'Hara founders under an excess of fringed leather and calamitous colloquialism. And though Patrick Swayze gives it his best shot, his quick-drawin', slow drawlin' Pecos Bill pales in comparison to his magnificent black steed, Widowmaker. But then, Widowmaker doesn't have to say any lines. The real stars of this show are the set designers and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List). They have fashioned a highly detailed, beautifully wrought picture of turn-of-the-century West. (The opulently Gothic interior of the villains' train alone is nearly worth the price of admission.) Neither comical enough to warrant the sweeping caricatures that beleaguer it, nor intelligent enough to deserve the beautiful production values (and, no doubt ample budget) it has been blessed with, Tall Tale is like two different movies -- an imaginatively sumptuous visual feast and the awkward telling of a tale that is not so much tall as it is broad and long.

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Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill, Jeremiah Chechik, Patrick Swayze, Oliver Platt, Roger Aaron Brown, Nick Stahl, Scott Glenn, Catherine O'Hara

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