A beautifully photographed slice of pony porn for the preteen set, Flicka blows its wad in the trailer (that’s the theatrical, not horse, sense), leaving little to sustain the 94-minute run time. After all, if you’ve seen 1943’s My Friend Flicka (or the short-lived ‘50s TV series), you’re not missing much except the addition of the usual modern amenities and the curious gender switch of the main character from Ken to Katie. One would hope that the screenwriters, given the obvious, tired metaphor of the film (wild, seemingly untamable horse = rebellious, stubborn adolescent), would have figured out a way jazz up the narrative somehow. Instead, Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner ladle on the portentous thunderstorms, painfully funny dialogue (“How do you know a dang thing about that creature?” “Because we’re the same!”) and enough false sentimentality to induce a diabetic coma.
There’s not a moment in Flicka that feels genuine, which is highly ironic considering how much lip service is paid to “the spirit of the West”—its conduciveness to going your own way and feeling free. Spouting all this empty pap, the film is helplessly shackled to the shopworn Hollywood conventions that were creaky whenever the first adaptation of Mary O’Hara’s novel hit screens some six decades ago. In fact, were it not for J. Michael Muro’s gorgeous images capturing horses galloping across California-inexplicably-standing-in-for-Wyoming, Flicka would seem like an overly earnest (and terrible) Taster’s Choice commercial, with its leaden dialogue of no use to the veritable checklist of cliché characters: Tim McGraw’s emotionally remote father; Maria Bello’s faux-hippie mom; Ryan Kwanten’s chiseled older brother fucking his way into a better tax bracket; Alison Lohman’s naïve, headstrong teenager.
Director Michael Mayer puts his cast through its predictable paces, wringing every last drop of sentimentality out of the story and never missing an opportunity to place blaring country-pop songs beneath the myriad scenes of tears and parental defiance. Flicka is a film that doesn’t push emotional buttons so much as mash them flat with a sledgehammer; during the slow-mo finale, you can practically feel Mayer laying into the back of your chair screaming, “Cry, dammit!” It’s not too difficult to resist that urge; were this film a living, breathing thing, I’d have no qualms volunteering to take it behind the barn and put it out of everyone’s misery.