“Rustlers’ Rhapsody,” a sort of kinder, gentler “Blazing Saddles,” offers a gleefully skewed take on everything from singing cowboy movies to spaghetti Westerns.
Tom Berenger is Rex O’Herlihan, the world’s most considerate singing cowboy--so considerate that he gives friendly advice to the gunmen sent to kill him.
“You’re making a mistake,” he tells the outlaws who have surrounded him. “The way you’ve positioned yourselves, when the shooting starts, you’re liable to miss me and hit each other.”
When Rex isn’t ironing his monogrammed, color-coordinated outfits and writing to his mother, he practices shooting at hand-shaped targets. (He never kills his enemies--just shoots them in the hand to disarm them.)
And in a poke at Westerns’ macho conventions, Rex, in an immaculate whiter-than-white outfit, walks into a saloon and orders “warm milk, please.” Seeing the disgust on the faces of patrons nearby, he asks the bartender, “Oh, is this one of those really tough bars? Hmmm, let me have a large glass of warm gin served with a human hair in it.”
The plot of “Rustlers’ Rhapsody” is more than familiar: A cowboy stranger comes to town and must save its people from a greedy cattle baron and vicious gunslingers. Rex meets many of his fellow Western cliches: the prostitute with a heart of gold (Marilu Henner, as the saloon girl who talks dirty to her customers but never actually sleeps with them), the town drunk, the cowardly sheriff, pistol-packing outlaws in black and rifle-toting assassins dressed in dusty, drab raincoats.
Andy Griffith is the villainous, effeminate Col. Ticonderoga, who wants to run local sheepherders off their land. Ticonderoga eventually realizes that the good guys always win and that the way to defeat Rex is by hiring a good guy of his own.
Rex and his rival, singing cowboy Bob Barber (Patrick Wayne), argue about who is the better good guy. During their debate, Bob points out that Rex is 31, single and doesn’t date, adding, “We both know you have to be a confident heterosexual to be a good guy.”
Momentarily off balance, Rex frowns and says, “I thought it was just a heterosexual.”
By the time that Rex and Bob must shoot it out in the street, just about every cowboy movie cliche has been turned inside out. Although fans of Westerns will probably enjoy the movie more than others, “Rustlers’ Rhapsody” will still prove amusing even for viewers who dislike the genre.
* “Rustlers’ Rhapsody,” (1985), directed by Hugh Wilson. 88 minutes. Color. Rated PG.