- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

If only the real world were like “Flicka,” the newest rehashing of Mary O’Hara’s beloved book, “My Friend Flicka.” If it were, the lush mountain vistas of Wyoming would constitute the landscape, and its paths would be trodden almost exclusively by sprinting horses and gorgeous men and women donning “Western” wear that looks as if it were purchased from a J. Crew catalog.

All these folks would also possess inner beauty, living for their dreams and learning to see the potential that lies within their fellow men and even unruly stallions that, despite those daunting odds, might be broken after all. And in the end, everyone would gallop into the sunset.

It’s a beautiful dream, really. But perhaps it’s all a little too neat, the dialogue a little too cliche. It’s fine if you’re a horse-loving kid with a faded, dog-eared copy of the book in hand; the tale is wholesome, endearing and visually just lovely. Adults, however, may find that “Flicka” might just need to be put out to pasture already.

Instead of the book’s male protagonist, 16-year-old Katy McLaughlin (Alison Lohman) is the focal point here. Her parents, Rob (Tim McGraw) and Nell (Maria Bello), run a Wyoming horse ranch, but Dad wants better for Katy and sends her away to private school. There, Katy’s mind keeps wandering back to her family farm, which she secretly hopes to take over someday, and this distracts her from her studies.

When she returns home for summer break, Katy saddles up and rides into the woods. She and her horse are nearly devoured by a mountain lion, but a majestic black mustang emerges from the underbrush and bucks, rears and whinnies the beast away. Smitten with the wild creature, in which she sees her own free spirit, Katy makes it her mission to adopt and tame the steed.

Too bad Katy’s dad won’t have any of it; he’s as strong-willed as his daughter. Although Mom thinks owning and training a horse will teach the girl responsibility, he thinks the mustang is “loco” and dangerous. And he’s got his own problems; it seems it’s getting harder to eke by as a rancher, and wealthy developers are offering top-dollar for land. It’s tempting.

Katy’s brother, Howard (Ryan Kwanten), also has a surprise: he doesn’t want to follow in his dad’s footsteps in Wyoming. He wants to go to college out-of-state. Poor Nell will have to fight to keep her family together and to keep Dad from selling Katy’s dream horse. Luckily, with Howard’s help, Katy devises a (risky) way to win the creature for her own.

All is resolved eventually; although, to get there, audiences have to sit through a whole lot of melodrama, proselytizing about preserving the spirit of the West, and even some of those rainy crying scenes (ugh). Nevertheless, this fantasy sure is pretty to look at.

*1/2

TITLE: “Flicka”

RATING: PG for some mild language

CREDITS: Directed by Michael Mayer. Screenplay by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner. Based on the book by Mary O’Hara.

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: www.flickamovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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