THE HONKERS has James Coburn saddle up for his rangy, randy part of the ‘rodeo quartet’ that bucked out of the chute in 1972, preceded by Cliff Robertson as J.W. Coop, followed by Steve McQueen as Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner, then When The Legends Die, starring old hand Richard Widmark. Those three drew more positive reviews, and did better at the box office. With misleading poster ads that made it look like a comedy, The Honkers ranked 112th for the year, grossing $2,400,000.
His glory days behind him, aging rodeo cowboy ‘Lew Lathrop’ (Coburn, 43) may have held his own on bucking horses and ornery bulls, but he’s never mastered his self-destructive nature. In the wake of his blasé attitude toward responsibility and casual, risk-laden amorality he’s fracturing trust with family and friends.
Coburn’s got the leathery lothario bit down, and he’s strongly supported by the underrated Lois Nettleton as his loyal but listing wife, strikingly sexy Anne Archer, 24 in her feature debut, as a local temptress who always gets what she wants (I surrender), and especially the irreplaceable Slim Pickens, as his closest pal. It’s one of Slim’s best roles, and bullseye up his alley, as he’d done dang near everything you could in rodeos from the time he was 14.
Directed by actor Steve Ihnat, who co-wrote the script with Stephen Lodge. The writing—the dialogue is naturalistic—is better than the direction. Ihnat’s pacing is too relaxed, he lets scenes and individual shots drag out until they’re exhausted. He has James Crabe’s diffuse and distancing cinematography overuse telephoto lenses; the look is so alternately sun-baked or smoky your eyes wander. Crabe (Rocky) does get good slo-motion shots of some wild bronc and bull riding, especially those with real rodeo champion Larry Mahan. *
The major problem is that Lew Lathrop is a selfish, undependable jerk from start to finish, and ultimately you’re left with a “so what?” finish to 102 minutes of hoping this bull slinger will see the light.