"Cold Feet," which moves in abrupt spurts and jagged gyrations, features three enormously deft and funny actors, Sally Kirkland, Tom Waits and Keith Carradine, as partners in a bizarre emerald smuggling scheme. Their daft larcenies are played out with all Montana as a dwarfing background.
Cowboy and habitual liar Monte (Carradine) arrives at his brother Buck's spread in Montana with Infidel, a handsome stallion. The horse's services may let Buck (Bill Pullman) and his wife Laura (Kathleen York) make a go of the family ranch at last. However, Infidel is actually the property of Monte's partners, the marriage-minded Maureen (Kirkland) and the suntanned, frowzy Kenny (Waits), a talented contract killer. With Monte, they have arranged to transport a container of emeralds into the country along Infidel's rib-cage, courtesy of a now-dead veterinarian.
"Cold Feet" (opening today, AMC Century 14 and Beverly Center Cineplex) is schizoid; smart yet untiringly vulgar; exquisitely played yet out of control most of the time. It's no secret that its director, Robert Dornhelm ("She Dances Alone," "Echo Park") is unhappy with the released version, which certainly has none of the insights or gentle observations of his earlier features.
The screenplay is the work of two of Montana's proudest literary lights, novelist/screenwriter and occasional director Tom McGuane ("92 in the Shade," "Rancho Deluxe") and poet/novelist Jim Harrison ("Legends of the Fall" and the current "Dalva"). It's full of McGuane earmarks: characters like Waits' malevolent Kenny, muttering to himself in verbal footnotes. Kenny is reluctant to grow old as just another murderer. He sees himself as executive material, and in the climate of today he may be exactly right. Such zingers, enriched by the special Waits body English, may not exactly advance the action, but they do make for a rich dallying place while all else flows by.
But action isn't the point, it's character that counts or should count in "Cold Feet." The soulful Maureen, for example, she of the spray-painted Spandex wardrobe and the voracious appetites, whose dream of finding a completely dishonest cowboy and snuggling down for all time has been mistakenly realized in Monte.
There was a hint in "Anna" of Kirkland's potential for humor; it's unfurled here in her quick-change range, from sunny to stormy in two sentences. It takes a powerful inner gyroscope to make this work, but Kirkland never falters, even with the editing working tirelessly against her. (Two editors are credited.) By contrast, Carradine's Monte is almost a goofball straight man to this bent pair. It's up to him and Pullman--and these lush cobalt blue skies--to make the pull of Montana tangible, and this they do emphatically.
There was the chance that "Cold Feet" could have been another "Bagdad Cafe," bringing a distinctly European eye to the peculiarities of the American West. (Director Dornhelm is Romanian born, Austrian educated.) But just as the charm of these characters gets a chance to work, some flagrant crassness shrivels the moment. It remains a bungled beguilement, one of the screen's wistful might-have-beens.