Joel McCrea, a durable star from the Old Hollywood era who was closely associated with the Western genre, signed off with the family-friendly outdoors adventure Mustang Country, in which an aging cowboy and an orphaned Indian boy work together to trap a wild horse that has outsmarted countless other wranglers. Benefiting from extensive location photography in Canada’s gorgeous Banff National Park, the picture delivers exactly what it promises—viewers get lots of scenes with animals fighting, jumping, and running—and it also serves McCrea relatively well, inasmuch as his character comes across as sweet, tough, and wise. Like many family films, Mustang Country is gentle to a fault, since the harshest thing that happens in the storyline is the death of an animal, and the picture’s young costar, Nika Mina, brings the whole enterprise down with his weak performance. Nonetheless, McCrea fans get to savor seeing a beloved personality from countless previous Westerns ride in the saddle one last time, and nature fans get to relish panoramic images of bears and horses and other critters romping through crystalline lakes and resplendent forests with the snowy peaks of the Canadian Rockies looming nearby.
Dan (McCrea) and his trusty Rottweiler, Luke, trek through the frontier by the Canada/Montana border while trying to capture a beautiful black mustang that cowboys have named “Shoshone.” When Dan tumbles from his saddle one day and falls unconscious, he’s discovered and nursed back to health by Nika (Mina), who recently ran away from school. Dan offers to escort the lad to his grandfather’s place, but when they discover the grandfather has died, Dan forms a partnership with Nika, figuring two people will have better luck capturing the mustang than one. Notwithstanding a subplot about a vicious grizzly bear, that’s the whole story, so Mustang Country is a thoroughly predictable saga about a young man gaining maturity while an old man reclaims youthful enthusiasm. McCrea is as comfortable onscreen as ever, though his characterization is a bit one-note, what with all the homilies and humility. Still, writer-director John Champion remembers to provide some sort of spectacle every 10 or 15 minutes. In between those highlights, he occasionally pads the picture with bland montages, and don’t be fooled by the prominent billing of costars Robert Fuller and Patrick Wayne—they’re out of the story after the first sequence, and then it’s nothing but McCrea and Mina for the rest for the ride.
Mustang Country: FUNKY