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The horse deserves better

Times Staff Writer

“Big Spender” is a film about second chances -- for a convict, for a racehorse, for a sad little boy. If I had a second chance to watch this movie, I wouldn’t. (The Animal Planet original film airs tonight at 5, 7 and 9.)

In fact, I’d rather scrub a stable. The story is predictable, the dialogue overripe with cliches. The perfectly blow-dried lead actor, Casper Van Dien, is hopelessly self-conscious. When he is supposed to look as if he is concentrating on learning horse training, you can almost see him thinking, “Does my hair look OK?”

Van Dien plays Eddie, a convict who gets a chance to turn his life around with a work furlough to a farm for retired thoroughbred horses. Here he bonds with broken-down Big Spender, another loser, a racehorse who couldn’t hack it -- or could he? Maybe it’s just me, but I got the feeling that when Eddie was giving Big Spender pep talks -- “People want to write you off! But you’re a winner!” -- he was really giving them to himself.

I felt sorry throughout for Graham Greene, who gives a fine, understated performance as the farm supervisor, Jake. He deserves better material. I wish the horse who played Big Spender got more screen time. He is an accomplished actor, as adept at faking a limp as begging for peppermints. I’m sure he also was frustrated with the script.

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Tara Spencer-Nairn, as Eddie’s love interest, Melinda the jockey, did the best she could with exchanges like this:

Eddie: “You don’t look like a jockey.”

Melinda: “You don’t look like a convict! Sorry.”

I wasn’t expecting “Equus”; something with the entertainment value of a good “Mr. Ed” episode would have been sufficient. But this unfortunate flick is destined for the glue factory.

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