Revisiting George Strait’s Film Debut, ‘Pure Country’

Warner Brothers

Pure Country arrived in theaters on Oct. 23, 1992. It starred established country superstar George Strait as Wyatt “Dusty” Chandler, a singer overwhelmed by the surging popularity of country music. With a country music-dominated Super Bowl halftime show just a few months away and American culture’s love for cowboy hats and line dancers on the rise, the film’s themes of moving forward creatively without selling out made sense as Strait’s peers went uptown.

Over 25 years later, the film seems more like a straight-to-cable guilty pleasure than something that played on the big screen. Still, it’s not without its charm or its place in Strait’s legacy, as established by these talking points.

Predictable Yet Earnest

If you’re a sucker for Hallmark movies, you’ll see every plot twist and love story trope from a country mile away. In a story very similar to John Mellencamp’s 1992 film Falling From Grace, Dusty Chandler maneuvers stardom as a wide-eyed country boy. When the bright lights and thick fog of an early ’90s country stage show become too much, Chandler runs away from the spotlight, finding both his true self and his true love (Harley, played by Isabel Glasser).

The only food for thought to be found comes after Chandler’s manager (Lula, portrayed by Lesley Ann Warren) reacts to his departure by coldly putting an impostor on stage. It’s as if someone involved in this project might’ve felt that the Nashville machine swapped country singers in tight britches and cowboy hats on a dime when necessary. Plus, with crowds in stadiums so far away from the singers and the occasional case of a big name lip-syncher, it’s believable that this stunt might’ve worked in real life.

Otherwise, the story reeks of sweet sentimentality. Of course, Strait appeals to sweet and sentimental folks, so it’s no surprise that many of his fans prefer kicking back and enjoying a fun movie to nitpicking plot limitations.

Unsung Musical Guest Star John Doe

Chandler’s best pal and drummer Earl is played by punk and roots rocker John Doe. As a singer and bassist in the band X, Doe played a major role in early West Coast punk rock. The interest that scene drummed up in outside-the-box live music created avenues for Dwight Yoakam and others to be themselves out West without scaring off mainstream taste makers. From X’s country music side project the Knitters to Doe’s Americana-influenced solo material, the punk legend knows his stuff when it comes to the Western roots of California’s country and folk legacy, making him a better musical match for Strait than some might assume.

Hardly a Critic’s Choice

Critics had little choice than to pan the film’s feel-good if not predictable story line. The handsome singer-turned-actor lead’s encounters with shady business dealings and an eligible bachelorette drew unflattering comparisons to the cheesy films of Elvis Presley. Overall, the film nets a lousy 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes due to numerous negative reviews.

For the most part, critics hammer the script instead of the star. Be it an understanding of the challenges faced by a first-time actor or a undeniable show of promise, many of those same negative reviewers see Strait’s involvement as the film’s silver lining.

“If Strait weren’t so appealing, the movie would be easier to dismiss,” wrote Baltimore Sun film critic Stephen Hunter. “Let’s hope it does well enough to give him a second shot and that maybe he can find something a little bit less Las Vegas and a little bit more East Texas.”

Even if the film wasn’t high art in the eyes of many would-be Siskels and Eberts, Strait’s fans still don’t seem to mind. Its fan rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a hefty 91 percent.

Strait’s Best-Selling Album

While the film made just $15 million at the box office against its $10 million budget, the soundtrack was a smash success. With over six million copies sold, it’s Strait’s best-selling non-compilation album. Its 11 tracks make up one of Strait’s strongest releases, anchored by “Overnight Male,” “Last in Love,” “Baby Your Baby,” “The King of Broken Hearts,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “I Cross My Heart” and “When Did You Stop Loving Me.”

The list of co-writers represented is staggering, including legendary television and film composer Steve Dorff, Americana legend Jim Lauderdale, country legend Mel Tillis to the Eagles founder Glenn Frey.

If the film was seen at any point as a means for Warner Bros. to sell albums, then it surely surpassed any goals.

Now Watch: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About George Strait

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Revisiting George Strait’s Film Debut, ‘Pure Country’