Starring: Robert Knott, Alex Meneses, Hunter Von Leer, Wilford Brimley, Gailard Sartain, Robert Peters, Brian Shoop, Rex Linn
Director: Rod Slane
Most critics, when pressed, will admit to having a soft spot for certain actors. Even though they know in their heart of hearts that a movie is going to be awful, if they spot a particular name in the credits, they’re willing to throw caution to the wind and give the movie a shot. For me, one such actor is…Wilford Brimley.
Yes, him of the Quaker Oats ads. If your memory’s a bit longer, however, you probably remember Brimley more fondly from his roles in “Cocoon,” “The Firm,” “The Natural,” and John Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing.” Maybe you recall his TV series, “Our House,” where he played the grandfather of a pre-“90210” Shannen Doherty. And, of course, let us not forget his turn in “Seinfeld” as Henry Atkins, Postmaster General.
Frankly, I blame my father. Not only does he resemble Brimley, but he’s also a huge fan of Brimley’s, like, to the point where my father actually wrote the man a fan letter. You have to understand that my father is in his 60s and has, to my knowledge, never written a fan letter to anyone. He’s just not that kind of guy. But he’s always felt a bond with the curmudgeonly Brimley, and he said as much in the letter. Of course, given the fact that Brimley is a curmudgeon, it’s no real surprise that he never bothered to respond. But it doesn’t change the fact that when I see ol’ Wilford’s name in the credits of any film, I immediately think of my dad, and, in turn, I find myself deciding, “Okay, I’ll give this movie a chance.”
And this, my friends, is how we find ourselves in the midst of a review for a little film called “Cockfight.”
When one of the local cockfighting impresarios turns up dead (stop laughing!) Oklahoma Senator Michael Turner (Robert Knott) is approached by the man’s widow, who refuses to believe the police declaration that her husband’s death is a suicide, and begs him to have someone look into the case. The senator calls upon his former flame, FBI Agent Becky Lord (Alex Meneses), to investigate, and Lord quickly discovers a web of corruption, stretching from the local level all the way up to the state capitol, surrounding a proposed bill to ban the sport of cockfighting throughout Oklahoma.
In the midst of watching “Cockfight,” I was suddenly reminded of a scene in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood,” where Rance Howard – Ron’s dad – plays a rich cattle rancher who’s willing to help finance Wood’s latest film, just as long as he’s willing to make a couple of changes. You know, small changes, like, say, to completely re-write the ending, and to make his son the film’s leading man. (“He’s a little slow, but a good boy.”)
I found myself very easily imagining a similar conversation going on somewhere in Oklahoma:
“Well, sir, here’s the story. My boy here, he wrote him a script ‘bout cockfighting, and I’m looking to get it produced. Money’s no object, but I’ve got just one requirement: I’d like to see Wilford Brimley as the governor. If you can make that happen, well, sir, then you can make this movie.”
I’m sure that conversation never actually happened, just as I’m sure (well, relatively sure, anyway) that Kent Frates’ screenplay was written as a well-intentioned statement on the hot-button issue of banning of cockfighting in the state of Oklahoma. An issue, it should be noted, which was resolved almost five years ago, back when this film was actually made. Unfortunately, all the good intentions in the Sooner State can’t make up for the atrocious, cliché-ridden dialogue the cast of “Cockfight” find themselves saddled with. It’s bad enough when Meneses receives an anonymous phone call and, after Knott asks her who it was, she responds, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” But when Knott crouches over a fallen comrade and screams, “Don’t you die on me,” you try and keep from laughing. Go ahead, I dare you. Alas, the film’s ridiculousness isn’t limited to the dialogue. The climactic action sequence of “Cockfight” provides a two-minute stretch where, after watching the events unfold, you’ll almost certainly need a pencil, a scratch pad, and possibly an algebraic equation to determine which of the five characters (that’s an FBI agent, a corrupt sheriff, two senators and a hit man, if you want to start the tally board) is the stupidest of the bunch.
Ultimately, though, the downfall of this film is what I can only presume was an unconscious desire on Frates’ part to create a new drinking game to sweep America’s college campuses. Seriously, if you were to take a shot every time the words “cockfight,” “cockfighter” and “cockfighting” were uttered, you’d be one sorry drunk bastard within about five minutes. My personal favorite moment (should you ever choose to see the film, you’ll have your own) comes when the aforementioned cockfighting impresario receives a threatening fax, which closes with the lines, “Pay up, cockfighter!” I’m sorry, but that’s funny.
But even after all this criticism, I know that one question remains first and foremost in your mind, and rightfully so: does Wilford Brimley escape from “Cockfight” with his reputation unscathed?
Well, obviously. It’s just too bad that no one else in the film does.
Okay, I admit it, there’s something perversely fascinating about the concept of cockfighting, even if there’s nothing in the film itself that provides similar fascination, so I was hopeful about the reference on the back of the DVD box to extras entitled “History of Cockfighting” and “Cockfighting: A Ring of Controversy.” How incredibly disappointing, then, to find that these are not featurettes but, rather, text pieces. The only other extra, aside from trailers for other VCI releases, is an audio commentary from the director and producer, but I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it, as it would’ve technically involved watching the film a second time.