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Screens & Tech

Made-in-SA 'Dani the Ranch Hand' has its moment, but suffers from unnecessary Waco syndrome

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

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Dani Garza's life is falling apart: she's addicted to pain killers, comes from a dysfunctional family, struggles to make ends meet working as a stripper and, when she finally is about to get it together, things make a turn for the bad and get really ugly. Not the most original of stories, but enough to get some thrills.

The first feature by San Antonio writer-director Brian Douglas aims high, but flies low. It suffers from the usual low-budget maladies (erratic acting, scenes that should have had more takes, an obvious prop doll in a birth scene, and a guy who gets his kneecap blown off by a shotgun who then leisurely drives the getaway car and takes a dip in the river the next morning), but its biggest problem is a weak story that only survives through flashes of Douglas' honest writing and fine acting by most in the cast.

"I wrote the script and began pitching it as an Urban Cowboy meets Monster type of project," Douglas said in the director's statement. "When [executive producer Aaron Lee López] asked me what kind of movie it was, I told him it was a small, neighborhood- style story like Goodfellas, but instead of mobsters and spaghetti in New York, it was strippers and malt liquor in Texas."

The problem is: Douglas couldn't put an earlier ambition to make a film about the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco out of his head. With no budget for something so large, he instead turned Dani into a former wife of David Koresh who somehow survived the fire and wound up stripping in San Antonio. Brilliant.

It was a completely unnecessary "what if" move. The film had enough potential on its own without the aid of any Waco nonsense, especially considering that the actress who plays Dani (Pamela D. Hardy) is all intensity. She certainly doesn't need to "enrich" her acting with bogus voice-over narrations of her days with her late wacky husband. Those Waco reminders only distract from the movie's rhythm by trying to sell us a character that was obviously so not there.

To Douglas' credit, he resisted the temptation to shove tits and ass at the viewer every time he could. If there is plot designed for easy sex scenes, this is it. Instead, he chose to pile on the sexual tension and invest in strong dialogue (a former addict himself, his descriptions of the drug life are believable). In that sense, the movie works better as a character study than as a linear story, and the best members of his cast are in great part responsible for it: besides Hardy, June Griffin-García is perfectly cast as aunt Kay Garza (she's the personification of sexy tough love); John Daws as Walter managed to convincingly portray a former cop turned drunken bum who truly cares for Dani; and Craig Raney is dead on as a cocaine-snorting redneck asshole.

The movie is a missed penalty kick in OT. Douglas almost had it, and he blew it. If only there had been more Travolta and less Koresh.

Dani the Ranch Hand

★★ (out of 5 stars)

Writ. and dir. Brian Douglas; feat. Pamela D. Hardy, John Daws, Craig Raney, June Griffin-García, Alexander Berkowitz, Clint Hansen, James Guerra Treviño (not rated)


Dani the Ranch Hand SA Premiere
7pm and 9pm Sat, July 21
Josephine Theatre
339 W Josephine
(210) 734-4646

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