From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. 2 of 4 stars, mostly because it showcases Katrina Elam’s talents as a songwriter, singer and actress.
State songstress saving grace for ‘Pure Country 2′
The big-time showcase given to Oklahoma-born and bred singer/songwriter/actress Katrina Elam is by far the best present wrapped up in the cliché spinoff film “Pure Country 2: The Gift.”
The new movie isn’t the sequel to the hit 1992 George Strait vehicle “Pure Country,” although it does play similar thematic notes for the same audience. Strait makes a few brief appearances, but this time the country music legend is playing himself rather than his “Pure Country” character Dusty Chandler.
King George’s easy charisma, Elam’s bright talents and the lovely Nashville, Tenn., locations are the saving graces of this over-stuffed, syrupy film. Director Christopher Cain (“Pure Country,” “Young Guns”) co-wrote the script with his stepson, actor Dean Cain (who makes a cameo), and they cram every overused trope from the conventional rags-to-riches star-in-the-making tale and the “Touched by an Angel”-style Christian melodrama into “Pure Country 2.”
Hollywood studios have traditionally overlooked country music fans and Christian filmgoers alike, but these underserved audiences deserve better than a predictable story riddled with plot holes and weighed down with leaden spirituality.
The film opens with a ridiculously literal depiction of its Christian roots, taking viewers through puffy white clouds and blue skies into Heaven, where winged, hard hat-wearing angels Joseph (Michael McKean), Pedro (Cheech Marin) and Matthew (Bronson Pinchot) are handling a giggling ball of light. It’s a special gift of a big voice, and they hurl it down to Earth, along with three rules that the recipient must follow in order to keep it.
That’s right, half of Cheech & Chong, the singer from Spinal Tap and Balki Bartokomous are running Heaven. It’s a notion painfully silly enough to have me considering making other arrangements for the afterlife.
The gift of the divine voice, and its accompanying rules, lands on newborn Bobbie Thomas (Elam), whose mother dies in childbirth. Since her rodeo cowboy father doesn’t even know she exists, Bobbie is raised by the matronly Aunt Ella (Della Reese lookalike Jackie Welch), who schools the girl in the essential three rules: Never lie, always be fair and never break a promise.
Bobbie’s soaring vocals make her the star of her church’s choir and the local rodeo scene, but the ambitious teen longs for more than the small Kentucky town can offer. So she hops a bus for Nashville with nothing but a duffel bag and big dreams.
Of course, Nashville is overrun with talented wannabe singers, but Bobbie gets help from her co-workers at the sushi bar where she waits tables. They help her write a potential hit, gain the attention of a well-connected manager (Todd Truly) and score a record deal. Before you can say “All My Exes Live in Texas,” she is opening a show for George Strait, but if she wants to secure her place as a star, she might have to break her rules.
All the tattered conventions get their turn, from the slimeball manager and the loyal love interest (Travis Fimmel) to a tragic death and an ill-fated reunion. Fortunately, Strait fills the role of sage mentor.
For all its myriad faults, “Pure Country 2” has Elam to carry it. In her acting debut, the Bray native gives a natural, believable performance that keeps viewers rooting for her heroine and should have country fans seeking out her music.