'Grand Champion' needs to be put down
Finally, a kids' flick with subliminal themes of drugs, theft, and castration. Just kidding. It's appropriate that the prize-winning steer in Grand Champion is named Hokey, because this film is hokier than hokey. At 93 minutes, it's pokey. It's hokey-pokey.
The story puts its right foot in the West Texas plains where Hattie, a young widow (Adams), and her two children, Buddy (Fisher) and Sister (Emma Roberts), scratch out a living on their fledgling ranch. The new vet in town, Dr. Alfred (Tubb), aids the birth of a calf who Buddy predicts is "going to be a champ."
Hokey's mother dies during labor, conjuring memories of the death of the children's father, who is better off decomposing under the Texas topsoil than living with people this cheesy. "She's givin' him a ride around heaven right now," sighs Hattie, looking perpetually smudged and forlorn.
Dirty and sad is how Dr. Alfred likes his women, and he does his darnedest to sow a courtship with Hattie, whose devotion to motherhood and cattle has left her too tired to, ahem, rotate her crops.
Over the next several months, Buddy, Sister, and their African-American cowpal Edgar (Williams) - his character apparently represents the 1 percent of American farmers who are black - groom the steer to be a champion.
The movie puts its left foot in when the evil cattle rancher and Freddie Mercury doppelgänger enters the picture. He's rich, wears a black suit and hat, and dons a trophy wife whose skin is brown, not from hoeing weeds under the Texas sun, but from toasting in the tanning bed. The rancher wants to buy Hokey so that his son's steer, Rascal, won't have to compete against him at the Big Texas championships. "No member of my family is for sale," Hattie huffs. "Four legs or two."
Broke, the family, Edgar, and Dr. Alfred collect aluminum cans to scrape together the money to haul Hokey in the bed of the truck to the Big Texas Steer Championships. Yes, a steer stands in the open bed of a truck for a trip halfway across the state and patiently waits when the radiator blows. Happens all the time.
Hokey brings $775,000 at the auction, with Mr. Blandford (Willis) the winning bidder. Upon realizing that Hokey's future lies between a sesame seed bun, Buddy and Edgar steal him, foreshadowing their future as activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The two boys and a 1,500-pound steer waltz across Texas on foot and hiding in unsuspecting trucks. For several days, the police can't find them, probably because they are looking for AWOL Texas Democrats.
They can run, but they can't hide: Edgar, the black kid, stereotypically, gets hauled off by the cops, while lily-white Buddy eludes them and becomes a fugitive from justice. Finally, Dr. Alfred saves the day, suddenly appearing atop a rock. He hides Buddy in the truck cab, puts Hokey in the open bed, covers the steer with a tarp, and feeds him roofies, I mean flowers, that allow him to snooze through a high-speed chase.
In the end, Dr. Alfred gets the girl. Buddy gets to keep his steer. The movie can't get any hokier. That's what it's all about. •
By Lisa Sorg