*½/**** Image D+ Sound B-
starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Patti D'Arbanville, Ben Stiller
screenplay by Larry Ketron
directed by David Anspaugh
by Bill Chambers As Tipton, best friend of Matt (Andrew McCarthy), Ben Stiller whispers in Andrew McCarthy's ear, "Look, when the horse underneath us drops, we take a fresh one." Yes, and the wet duck flies at midnight. Fresh Horses is all too effortlessly characterized as Pretty in Pink by way of Cormac McCarthy, or a Walker Evans BOP spread. Hot off of Hoosiers, director David Anspaugh seems to be aiming for something even folksier and more naturalistic this time around, but his three leads--McCarthy, Stiller, and Molly Ringwald--are the least likely actors he could've cast. The effect is a movie from Mars.
It doesn't help that this is an Eighties flick, redolent of the standard biases of the decade: Since Stiller and McCarthy are playing trust-fund babies (in a manner of speaking), the filmmakers are far less afraid to flaunt their penniless affectations than those of the actual poverty-stricken characters--like Ringwald's, who appears on-screen only in conjunction with Matt. Reunited with her Pretty in Pink co-star McCarthy (waywardly reprising his role from that John Hughes production--and so dewy-eyed here that most male viewers will want to beat the shit out of him), Ringwald is Jewel, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks hanging out at her neighbour's place one day when in saunter Tipton and Matt. Tipton is disappointed that the wild reputation of this ramshackle farmhouse precedes it but Matt likes what he sees; against his better judgment, perhaps, Matt soon breaks off his engagement to be with Jewel.
Once Matt and Jewel are officially an item, the rumours start to trickle in courtesy of Sproles (the tragically unsung Doug Hutchison (The Chocolate War), hoisting the film onto his shoulders for the duration of his scenes), the brother of an undercover cop. Did 20-year-old Matt dump his fiancée for someone not only poor, but also already married and, gulp, only 16? In a film of forced ambiguities, the decision to leave Jewel's jailbait status unsubstantiated actually feels organic, age being one of life's red herrings to distract us from issues of class. The remainder of Fresh Horses is relatively impenetrable, with Anspaugh's usual clubfooted attempts at austerity--that his training ground was the slick and trendy TV series "Miami Vice" (hence Matt and Tipton riding a speedboat over the opening credits, I guess) surely puts what he knows and what he envisions into conflict--prolonging the agony, though it warrants mention that Anspaugh has some wizardly knack for making dull movies that are just idiosyncratic enough to stave off boredom.
Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Fresh Horses contains a fullscreen transfer of the film, something I wasn't aware of beforehand. While this is more likely an open-matte presentation than a panned-and-scanned one, we're inching too close to a widespread tolerance for the practice of letterboxing to jeopardize it with these non-OAR titles, catalogue status or not. Compositions are thus lacking in integrity, although the source print is clean (if not spotless) and the colours are vivid for the first time in the film's video history. The Dolby Surround soundtrack is thin and uninvolving, but probably an accurate reflection of the original four-channel mix. Trailers for Jerry Maguire, Maid in Manhattan, and My Best Friend's Wedding round out the disc. Originally published: March 5, 2004.