Unremarkable in every regard, this character study of a self-involved rodeo rider pales when compared to the similar films Junior Bonner and When the Legends Die, both of which were released in the same year. However The Honkers does feature two highly watchable stars, James Coburn and Slim Pickens, and it gets credibility points for following a bleak storyline toward an ending that’s both downbeat and restrained. Coburn stars as Lew, an aging cowpoke who spends so much time on the road that his marriage to long-suffering Linda (Lois Nettleton) is permanently endangered. When he’s away from home, dallying with married women in between bronc-riding competitions, Lew travels with a chummy rodeo clown named Clete (Pickens), who does his best to keep Lew from getting killed on the job or in the brawls Lew instigates in his downtime. When the movie begins, Lew has just returned home for a spell between rodeo tours, so he tries to pick up the pieces of his marriage and to strengthen his relationship with his teenaged son, Bobby (Ted Eccles). Meanwhile, the stable-but-boring Royce (Richard Anderson) quietly woos Linda away from her wayward husband, and a beautiful young heiress, Deborah (Anne Archer), tries to tempt Lew into her bed. The story becomes a question of whether Lew will choose the straight and narrow or remain on his destructive course, and to the filmmakers’ credit, Lew stays true to his unsympathetic colors from start to finish. Unfortunately, nothing he does is especially interesting, so the solid character work is wasted on ordinary vignettes of redneck rambunctiousness and rodeo wrangling. Additionally, Coburn doesn’t have anywhere near the depth necessary for the lead role, so he’s outshined by Nettleton’s believable angst and by Pickens’ homespun gravitas; in fact, seeing Pickens play one of his few fully developed dramatic roles is the best reason to see the movie. The Honkers isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, either.
The Honkers: FUNKY