'Flicka' — Mustang silly

Nothing rings true in this modern-day remake of ‘My Friend Flicka’

Syrup meets stirrup, despite the heroine’s preference for bareback, in “Flicka,” a saddle-sore, conventional girl-meets-horse story that is based on Mary’s O’Hara’s novel “My Friend Flicka” and is surely inspired by the 1943 movie and later fare it spawned. The film presents promising variations on its source material but drowns them in formula and goo. It’s solely for kids, especially those with a noncritical nature and a horse fancy.

The protagonist is now female, and the action transpires in contemporary Wyoming. An occasional computer aside, the atmosphere is old-fashioned, with functional families and cowboy corn setting the tone. In short, grease up the disbelief-suspension gears.

Alison Lohman plays Katy McLaughlin, a boarding-school teen who’s returned to the financially ailing horse ranch operated by her supportive mother (Maria Bello), tougher-loving father (Tim McGraw), and wander-lusting brother (Ryan Kwanten). In the woods, Katy encounters a wild mustang whose defiant spirit she relates to. After the filly, Flicka, winds up in a pen, Katy sets out — violating dad’s orders — to tame and ride her. Family explosions, and bigger disasters, occur.

Young children unfamiliar with better horse flicks may like this movie, which contains lots of girl-horse bonding and a lively rodeo passage. Lohman, though somewhat mild and looking a decade older than 16-year-old Katy, is credible as a near-adult bursting with a rebelliousness that needs constructive harnessing.

It also introduces some worthy themes: economic hardship facing ranchers; the shrinking of the wild-horse population; malaise replacing frontier spirit in the American West. But unfortunately, director Michael Mayer and screenwriters Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner largely limit such sharper material to the narration, eclipsing it with inflated melodrama and a predicable, mushy “family” story. This movie’s a sorry exemplification of a Hollywood mentality that seems to think wholesomeness is synonymous with schmaltz.

Mayer, whose “A Home at the End of the World” was a decent small-scale relationship drama, appears to feel reined in by big-studio expectations surrounding the movie. He executes each plot development connect-the-dots style; he underscores what’s already blatant, via swelling music, verbal outbursts, brutal weather, or drawn-out dramatics involving the climactic fate of his title character. Deadly for a heart-tugger, virtually nothing rings emotionally true.

Movie review

Flicka *½

Starring Alison Lohman, Tim McGraw, Maria Bello and Ryan Kwanten

Written by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, based on the novel by Mary O’Hara

Directed by Michael Mayer

Rated PG

Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes

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