"I take orders from the Octoboss."

The Cowboy Way

June 3rd, 1994

I should’ve known better after BEVERLY HILLS COP III, but I was kind of excited to watch a ‘90s studio action comedy that I’m not really familiar with. I might have seen THE COWBOY WAY on video back in the day, but I don’t remember for sure, so it was basically new to me. Could’ve been an unheralded gem! But it wasn’t. Just some competently produced, very dumb bullshit. I always think of ’94 as a great year for film, but so far, I gotta tell you, the summer movies are not contributing to that impression.

The story is about two bickering New Mexico rodeo pals, Sonny (Kiefer Sutherland, TWIN PEAKS: FIREWALK WITH ME) and Pepper (Woody Harrelson, DOC HOLLYWOOD), who go to New York City to look for their missing friend Nacho Salazar (Joaquin Martinez, JOE KIDD). Nacho turns out to have been killed trying to save his daughter Teresa (Cara Buono) from traffickers, so they try to save her. Both the action premise and the comedy premise are that they only know how to live “the cowboy way” so they don’t really understand the city much but also can punch better than any mere city boy on account of cowboy ruggedness.

Basically they represent the two types of cowboys. Pepper is the wild “yeehaaaa!” kind, so he goes around recruiting women for wild sex adventures. At home he plays racist-Indian-stereotype-sex-games with a lady (credit is due for not being afraid to show his ass) and in New York he hits on bartenders and stuff, and I guess the idea is they’ve never seen a cowboy before so they can barely restrain themselves from tackling him and humping him right there. They almost die from lust. Because of cowboy powers.

And then Sonny is the polite “schucks, ma’am” type of cowboy so he does not go around fucking everybody, but the moment he first meets Teresa they seem like they’re supposed to be in love and it’s explained that it’s because her father shared photos of them and wrote about them to each other in letters for many years!? Sonny says, “It’s like I watched you grow up” in case you don’t find it questionable enough. I get Kyle Reese falling in love with a photo of Sarah Connor, because he’s fighting robots in the future, he’s desperate, but for this guy I don’t really support it. But to be fair I don’t follow the cowboy way.

If you’re the type of guy who goes to New York City and assumes you’re allowed to camp in Central Park and set up a little fire and everything… you might be a cowboy. An NYPD officer on a horse, Sam Shaw (Ernie Hudson, last seen three weeks ago in THE CROW) comes to tell Sonny and Pepper they can’t do that. But they give him tips for taking care of his horse and he turns out to admire outlaw gunfighters from the movies so he becomes their friend and then luckily they happen to run into him in town multiple times when they need his help.

The villains of the movie are traffickers who help Cuban immigrants such as Teresa get into the country but then force them to sew clothes in their sweatshops. Handsome evil rich guy Stark (Dylan McDermott, IN THE LINE OF FIRE) is a celebrity in the fashion world who murdered Teresa’s father and when his boss Huerta (Tomas Milian, DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!) fires him for it he immediately shoots the boss, pushes him out of his chair and takes his place. It’s unclear if he just leaves the body there, because those sorts of details are never addressed in this movie.

This is arguably a pretty low level criminal operation as far as action movies go, which could be kind of cool and Elmore-Leonardian, but the character of Stark is such an only-in-a-movie guy-who-knows-he’s-evil-and-glories-in-it cartoon it kind of ruins the potential there. If it was just some pathetic normal guy running this it could feel kind of true to life and be more interesting, I think.

Some good news though: Luis Guzman (INNOCENT BLOOD) plays one of two henchmen, a prominent part. The catch is that his biggest scene is where they torture him by pulling his pants down and tricking a baby cow into sucking his dick. Officer Shaw is there when it happens, he just smiles like it was a clever idea.

You’re not supposed to do that! But they don’t give a hoot!

I found the middle section so uninvolving that I considered not finishing it, but I’m glad I stuck in there, because it starts to get stupid in a more enjoyable way when it turns into just fighting the bad guy across the city. First there’s a part where Pepper uses his cowboy powers to crash a pickup truck through the side of a bar and point a shotgun at everybody, and Officer Shaw follows on his horse, calls himself “Mad Dog” Shaw and does a gun twirl. Western fandom gone dangerously far. Then there’s a car chase that gets halted by gridlock, so Stark escapes on a subway. The boys ask where it goes so they can “head him off” (just saying Brooklyn is enough for them to handle it) and then they steal two police horses which, as you can imagine, can get across New York in time if you use cowboy navigation skills or whatever.

When they get on the horses composer David Newman (ROVER DANGERFIELD, CONEHEADS, THE FLINTSTONES) switches to CITY SLICKERS “oh my goodness, what a rousing, old fashioned adventure we’re having here!” mode. It’s so corny. The movie also has a weird soundtrack that opens with the Gibson/Miller Band doing “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and closes with “Free Your Mind” by En Vogue. In between there are songs by Bon Jovi, Travis Tritt, Cracker, and Blind Melon? Pick up the soundtrack when you go to Tower Records to get THE CROW and THE FLINTSTONES.

One thing that’s funny about Shaw is that he not only supports them stealing the horses but commandeers a taxi (the official vehicle of New York City), drives to keep up with them… and does not call for back up or use any of the other police resources he has at his fingertips. He just trusts that they have a better plan than alerting his colleagues that a crime boss has a woman at gunpoint. If there was a reason that the crime boss found this specific sweat shop indentured servant so important he had to risk it all this way, I missed it.

The stunt coordinator is Conrad Palmisano, who did MARKED FOR DEATH, OUT FOR JUSTICE and UNDER SIEGE. This is not as good as those. I will say that two things about the movie are good. #1, Harrelson is obviously a natural for this role and makes it more tolerable than many stars of the time would’ve. #2, the climax is completely outrageous and made me laugh long and loud. They’ve chased Stark onto a subway platform and he seems to have defeated them, but Sonny jumps up and grabs an extension cord and they tie lassos on both ends, one they loop around Stark and the other onto a passing subway, so it yanks him off the platform and you see a floppy dummy violently dragging and bouncing around on the track.

That would be a great and hilarious climax on its own but what makes it transcendently ludicrous is that the movie treats it more like they won a low stakes softball game or something than they suddenly committed a horrifyingly gruesome murder of a rich celebrity in broad daylight and in front of a bunch of cops. There’s a fist pump and some smiles, everyone seems happy and relieved, and it dissolves to Shaw saying good bye to them the next day. There seem to be no consequences, no questions asked, and as far as we know nobody bothered to even do anything about the long nightmarish trail of blood and flesh they must’ve created. It’s just – they kill him, and everybody breathes a sigh of relief that everything is fine now. Good job, cowboys!

It’s directed by Gregg Champion, who I had to look up, but he had only directed SHORT TIME with Dabney Coleman and was supervising producer and second unit director for BLUE THUNDER, SHORT CIRCUIT, and STAKEOUT. Yeah, not much to work with there, that’s why the back of the DVD resorts to “from popular producer Brian Grazer” – can you believe that shit? I think I would’ve put “from Dean Semler, cinematographer of THE ROAD WARRIOR.” The screenplay is credited to William D. Wittliff (THE BLACK STALLION), story by Wittliff and Robert C. Thompson (one episode of Trapper John, M.D.).

I’m not alone in disliking THE COWBOY WAY. It got poor reviews and also didn’t make back its budget in theaters. Like so many of these summer of ’94 movies it’s not currently available digitally, but it turns out there is a blu-ray at least, for you city boys who require high definition. Sonny and Pepper would never notice, they can’t even tell they have motion smoothing on their TVs, because these cowboys, they just do it different, do you understand?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 5th, 2024 at 10:40 am and is filed under Reviews, Action, Comedy/Laffs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “The Cowboy Way”

  1. 1994 was a brain-melting hot, humid summer in NY. Thus my rationalization (and excuse) for paying to see this movie.

    It was starting in five minutes, it was air conditioned–and from the impression I got from the poster–it would be a 1994 version of Coogan’s Bluff (with a buddy-team Coogan)

    It indeed started in five minutes.
    And it was indeed air conditioned.
    And that’s where my hopes and aspirations ended…

    I am a little bummed out by reading this, because I had completely checked out at about the 40 minute mark. And I now I kind of wish I would’ve actually paid attention to the ending

  2. I remember really wanting to see this movie, because its German title (translated: LET’S DO IT LIKE COWBOYS) sounded fun and appealing for whatever reason. Then I caught it on TV a few years later and I’m not even sure if I made it to the first commercial break.

    Wasn’t Kiefer Sutherland actually into “the cowboy way” for a while and even participated in some rodeos for much of the 90s after this?

    And as far as soundtrack albums go: Yeah, I won’t rule out that I will take it home one day if I find it for 50 cent at a thrift store, just to be able to say “I own the soundtrack to THE COWBOY WAY”, but nothing on it screams “I should check it out as soon as possible” at me.

  3. It’s been decades since I watched it but I remember having a similarly underwhelmed response to this one. Really “fish out of water in NY” could be its own subgenre and it a crowded field. Crocodile Dundee and ELF are two good ones that stand out to me but I am sure their are plenty more.

  4. CJ, LET’S DO IT LIKE COWBOYS sounds like a porn parody.

  5. I was never convinced this was a real movie. Vern’s otherwise-excellent review still hasn’t convinced me.

  6. I had completely forgotten this movie ever existed. It is so inconsequential that Vern just started talking about Furiousa in the comments.

  7. Now, Vern moved his comment to the proper thread just to make me look insane.

  8. Ha ha, I’m an idiot. That’s what I get for commenting through Word Press instead of the actual sight, trying to be a big shot.

  9. I thought we had a silent agreement not to say anything…

  10. Franchise Fred

    June 5th, 2024 at 8:04 pm

    Bow that you mention it, early summer 1994 was pretty weak. It doesn’t really pick up until Speed but I too recall the monumental year.

    A lot of good stuff came out before the summer. Four Weddings and a Funeral, Gilbert Grape (wide release after 1993 limited), No Escape, On Deadly Ground, The Paper, Ace Ventura, With Honors, The Ref, I really liked The Chase.

    But year there was a lot of mid stuff that played to empty houses.

  11. By the way, Gregg Champion’s SHORT TIME is a really good movie and features one of the greatest unexpected (Well, you will expect it now) car chases in movie history. I kid you not, it’s up there with some of the most iconic ones!

  12. I haven’t seen it in around 2.5 decades, but I remember really enjoying SHORT TIME too. Cross-pollinating the two most recent threads I saw INSPECTOR GADGET at a £1 screening a while into its UK release, it may have even been on Rental VHS by then, and I remember being excited when Dabney Coleman turned up, because I had recently seen SHORT TIME after taking a chance on a bargain bin ex-rental copy.

    I didn’t realise that FOUR WEDDINGS had come out in the US before it came out in the UK. That’s the film that defined the summer of 1994 for the UK; if the sometimes (by its own admission) iffy website Salty Popcorn is to believed it was #1 at the UK Box Office for 9 consecutive weeks, spanning mid-May to mid-July, and the lead soundtrack single by Wet Wet Wet was truly omnipresent, and was #1 on the UK charts from the last week of May to mid-September! Not saying it’s a film I care about personally though, indeed I’m not even sure I’ve seen it all the way through.

    This was still in the period where there was usually a decent lag between US and UK releases, so the summer here looked pretty different; did get THE CROW, SERIAL MOM, THE MASK, and THE FLINTSTONES but no THE LION KING, SPEED, CLEAR & PRESENT DANGER or FORREST GUMP until the autumn or winter. I’m not even sure there was that much of a perception of the “summer movie season”here at the time, although it seems like a summer release may have benefited kid-friendly films as the FLINTSTONES outgrossed THE LION KING here handily, though there are certainly other factors to consider there (live action vs animation, theoretically greater adult appeal, a certain amount of cultural stigma around Disney here at the time, somewhat close to the year-late UK release of ALADDIN).

    As for THE COWBOY WAY, I have two associations;
    1) The fake(?) Gene Shallit review on THE CRITIC; “COWBOY WAY a wow? No way! Another bow-wow from Hollywoof!”
    2) I always forget which one is this and which one is the bull riding one with Luke Perry and Stephen Baldwin; turns out that’s 8 SECONDS, which I guess was released that January. I’ve seen neither. The one I’m somewhat interested in is 8 SECONDS.

    I will say that is a great 90s Poster though. Great as in archetypal, not necessarily artistic merit. I can so easily imagine 9 year old me staring at that on a VHS cover and imagining what it’s like and what this strange world of adult films that one day awaits me will be like, but I don’t remember ever seeing it.

  13. 8 SECONDS is actually a prequel to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, little known fact.

  14. In 1994, I saw this merely as the latest entry in the cycle of buddy action-comedies that I’d been watching more or less since birth. The stuff Vern complains about is just standard for the sub-genre. Questioning why the action buddies get away with leaving unlimited death and destruction in the wake of their completely unsanctioned justice-rampage is like questioning why all the extras in a musical know all the dance steps. You start asking those questions, you gotta start watching different movies.

    That said, this was never one of the better examples of the form. Hell, it’s not even one of the better ones starring Kiefer Sutherland that mixes urban and western motifs. (RENEGADES is.) But it is one of the last. They stopped making this kind of movie pretty soon afterward. So while I haven’t seen it in a very long time and never held it in high regard, I’d probably enjoy it now as a representative of a defunct format that meant a lot to me in my formative years. Even just reading about the stuff that made Vern hate it makes me smile and nod.

    Yup, that’s how we used to do it back then. We did it the Cowboy Way.

  15. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    June 6th, 2024 at 8:43 am

    Good news for the buddy action-comedy genre fans: BAD BOYS RIDE OR DIE releases today! I might see you there in a week or two if I’m bored.

  16. grimgrinningchris

    June 7th, 2024 at 5:04 pm


    You actually like With Honors? I thought I was the only one. Even if one of its best lines was already decades old at the time. I really liked 90s drama Fraser.

  17. My only awareness of WITH HONORS is that it was my freshman year roommate’s favorite movie. I’m pretty sure it was the only thing he liked. He was a total snob, so he actively ignored the themes of the plot (which is openly about how money and privilege don’t define a person’s potential) and just used it to fantasize about being the type of East Coast elitist who went to Harvard and not the mediocre turd with bad teeth who went to a state school that he actually was.

  18. It’s no School Ties but that was 1992 post Weird Summer.

  19. grimgrinningchris

    June 9th, 2024 at 3:00 pm

    Fred We’ll meet down at Smoky Joes Cafe and show that asshole French teacher who’s boss…

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