6 February 2009 | PaulTiberius
Family friendly, engaging
It's rare that an independent film with a minor-league budget achieves real cinema magic, especially when it's just telling a boy-meets-girl story without gimmicks or shock value. But Coyote County Loser is one of those magical rarities, and don't be surprised if the music fades, the lights come up, and you find yourself keeping your seat to immediately watch it all over again.
The hook for the film involves a big time radio "love doctor," Jack Proctor (Beau Clark), getting stranded in a podunk town while driving through the desert southwest. It turns out the town already has a local AM radio love advice expert, the lovely Lauren Hartford (Nikki Boyer). The two immediately get under each other's skin when the cocky, impulsive Jack decides to prank call Lauren's earnest, practical advice hour. Sparks fly and conflict ensues as the two relationship "experts" each find their own approaches to love stymied by the other, and of course, it wouldn't be a romantic comedy if they didn't finally fall in love in the end. While giving that away doesn't exactly spoil anything the audience can't see coming, one of the delightful surprises of Coyote County Loser is how the plot throws some curveballs just in time to keep the finale interesting.
With Jack stranded in town, Lauren's radio station manager offers him the chance to stick around and stir things up on air. With Jack and Lauren bumping elbows in what was once Lauren's solo domain, Jack is provoked into entering a bet with Lauren: if his love advice can't get the most pathetic sap in the county a date with the girl of his dreams, he'll leave town and never look back. What Jack doesn't realize until it's too late, however, is that Coyote County's biggest loser might just have his eye on the same girl he does, and to win the bet, he may end up helping someone else win Lauren's heart. The scenery is possibly the film's greatest asset, as the brilliant skies and open vistas in and around Roswell, New Mexico, where the film was mostly shot, immediately make plausible the idea that a big city radio jockey might just be willing to lose himself forever with the girl of his dreams in this desert paradise. It is a landscape made for longing hearts, and it draws the audience in from the first minute.
Coyote County Loser enjoys a cast that has the right mix of Hollywood experience and undiscovered talent (with, admittedly, a few obvious amateurs making the most of their first opportunity in front of a camera).
The star of the film is, without a doubt, Nikki Boyer, probably best known as the spunky studio hostess for the TV Guide Channel. The camera renders her mesmerizing in the light of New Mexico's sunsets, and the script gives her a range of personality aspects to navigate between. She alternates among confident, accomplished Ph.D. in her field, vulnerable girl wishing for the very romance she's terrified of, tomboy car mechanic, snarky on-air sparring partner, and doting daughter. She plays them all with total authenticity.
Beau Clark may not be a recognizable star, but on screen as Jack he's magnetic. He throws a casual, roguish vibe that, for most of the film, is pitch perfect, though there are moments the script asks him to walk right up to the edge of playing the kind of cocky slimeball that risks losing the audience's sympathy. To be sure, Jack evolves quite a bit throughout the film as the romantic narrative gradually draws the leads together, and it's apparent Clark as an actor evolves, too. It's fairly obvious which scenes were shot earliest during the principal photography, as some of Jack's initial scoundrel moments overshoot the character's center. But once established, the rapport between Boyer and Clark resonates and you're rooting for love to finally take hold.
Playing third fiddle in the love triangle is Frederic Doss as Lyle the junkyard auto mechanic, who very nearly steals the show with his handful of scenes. He plays the classic shy country boy with a golden heart and a secret crush, and it's a credit to the scriptwriters, director Jason Naumann, and Doss himself that for a while, you're not sure who you'd rather see find happiness with the lovely Lauren Hartford Jack or Lyle? Longtime Hollywood role players Wayne Grace and K Callan play a delightful older couple who alternately give sage advice and play mischievous matchmakers to Jack and Lauren. Unexpectedly, the story finds them to be the strong core around which all the other players revolve. Both Grace and Callan have moments on screen where their passion for this little indy film is clear, as lines that surely would have looked quite ordinary on the page become little gems of human insight in the subtle delivery.
The film has an engaging score and a toe-tapping musical selection, including several songs composed for the film, that bring both an authentic desert southwest flavor to the journey and also drive the momentum of the storyline forward.
And the movie does build momentum. As the pieces of the plot ultimately come rushing together in a dramatic crescendo, it's hard to believe the energy of the finale didn't require a car chase to bring it home although you might literally see one coming on first viewing.
The producing/writing team of brothers Jacob and Lucas Roebuck and Robert Bethke strove to make a film that was engaging, dramatic and cut no corners in its absorbing entertainment value while sticking to a commitment that it should be a family friendly film with a wholesome outlook on love.
The result is a film that is delightfully good, in spite of occasional clues to its budget limitations.