A well-meaning family adventure with an animal-preservation theme, Running Wild feels like a TV movie that somehow drifted to the big screen and gained 30 minutes of extraneous footage along the way. The cast is strictly B-list, the technical execution is perfunctory, and the storytelling is trite, so this thing would have gone down more smoothly as a 74-minute quickie. Set in Colorado, the movie begins with freelance photographer Whit Colby (Dina Merrill) snapping pictures of wild mustangs near a canyon. Then malevolent Crug Crider (Morgan Woodward) buzzes the herd with a helicopter, startling several horses into running off a cliff. Whit reports what she’s seen to local land agent Jeff Methune (Lloyd Bridges), kicking the story into gear. Jeff is responsible for looking after the animals and people on Indian terrain, where the incident happened, so he’s got a complicated relationship with local fatcat Quentin Hogue (Pat Hingle, who also associate-produced the picture). Quentin wants to buy the land for cattle grazing, so (unbeknownst to Jeff) Quentin enlists goons including Crug to murder mustangs, hoping that elimination of the herd will clear the way for his land grab. Whit, a big-city lefty with an activist spirit, has something to say about all of this.
Made somewhat in the mode of a Walt Disney picture, albeit without cutesy vignettes and mile-a-minute pacing, Running Wild goes to all the predictable places: Jeff and Whit fall in love; Jeff has bad blood with Crug, leading to a big fistfight; and the climax involves Jeff’s young son becoming endangered while trying to help wild horses. Nothing that happens in the picture is overtly stupid, but nothing that happens in the picture is special, either. Although scenes of mustangs roaming through canyon country are picturesque, way too much time gets chewed up by romantic material involving Bridges and Merrill, especially since the filmmakers fail to construct believable obstacles to that relationship. Bridges’ character is cranky (but not too cranky) and Merrill’s character is icy (but not too icy). Except for harsh vignettes of animal abuse, most of the picture could just as easily be titled Running Mild. And with all due respect to Mr. Hingle, a reliable actor of limited range, it’s not a good sign when he gives the most invested performance in a picture, unless one counts Woodward’s demonic scowling as an actual characterization.
Running Wild: FUNKY