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Country Goes to the Movies, part IX: Rhinestone

By Robert Loy, January 1998

A rhinestone sparkles like a diamond from far away, and it's only when you get close to it that you can see it's actually a worthless piece of glass and paste. Much like the movie "Rhinestone" which looked like a sensation on the marquee, but in the theatre it stunk like a skunk's gym locker.

Dolly Parton plays a country singer (now there's a stretch for you) in New York City. She works at a bar called the Rhinestone for a sleazoid named Freddy Ugo, who proudly displays his initials F-U on his suits and his door and anywhere else they'll fit.

Dolly wants out of her contract, but F-U won't have it. (And once you've seen the caliber of the other acts at the Rhinestone you'll understand why. One hat act manqué does a number called "Big Hunks of My Sweetie" about a woman wearing a wedding gown which gets caught in a tractor, and she ends up scattered all over the lower 48.)

Dolly bets Freddy that she can turn anybody into a country singer and to prove it she'll do just that with the first guy she sees.

Unfortunately, the first guy she sees is Billy Ray Cyrus, and even she can't work miracles.

So she picks the second guy she sees, a maniacal cab driver played by Sylvester Stallone. Oh well, she figures, it'll probably be easier to turn him into a country singer than a comedic actor.

At first, Sly is not interested in the bet, says he can't stand that "hillbilly stuff." (Which proves he missed his calling; instead of hacking he should be a HNC radio programmer.)

But he finally agrees to go along with it, for no reason other than it would be a very short movie if he didn't.

Dolly asks if he can play an instrument and the Italian stallion offers to take her home and show her his "big organ."

"Okay," Dolly says, "but it better have music coming out of it." (Just one example of the truly wretched repartee in this movie. It's hard to tell if it's meant to be funny or if Stallone had a hand in writing some of the dialogue. When he leaves his job at the cab company Sly says, "I resignate.")

You can't teach anybody to sing country in New York, so Dolly takes Sly back home to Leiper's Fork, the kind of small Southern town where sheep walk down the middle of main street (probably because they're afraid of those guys hanging out in front of the general store).

Sly is not shy, he does a version of "Devil With a Blue Dress" that frightens away chickens, ducks and children.

Challenged to do something a little more country, he launches into a version of "Old McDonald Had a Farm" like Little Richard might have done it if he had traded in all his talent for methamphetamines.

She's only got two weeks to turn "Hopalong Meatball" into a passable singer, so, of course, she wastes a lot of time trying to teach him such country arts as how to sop up gravy with a biscuit and how to walk like a cowboy (pretend you have jock itch and always watch out for cow flop).

Eventually she does deck him out in some Porter Wagoner reject threads and rounds up an audience for him, which inspires him to do the absolute worst "Baby-you-left-me-and-now-I'm-so-sad-I'm-going-to-get-drunk-and-sing-something-built-around-a-truly-horrendous-pun" song I've ever heard. It contains the immortal lines "Honey, you created a monster; they call me Drinkingstein."

Which is only marginally better than "I Don't Want to Fall in Love in Love, I Just Want to Fall in Bed," the tune Dolly selects for Sly to do at his big debut at the local Leiper's Fork watering hole

Being an extra on this film must have paid quite a lot because the crowd bursts into hearty applause for this dreck, and they almost look like they mean it.

The only person not pleased is Parton's old badass boyfriend who heckles and tries to cause trouble for Sly until Dolly - that's right, Dolly - decks him. (Don't ask.)

Dolly and Sly have a day or so before they head back to the Big Apple. They start to practice, but decide they'd rather "do it" than duet. Everything looks like a go for the Rhinestone show so naturally they get into a fight almost as soon as they're back in the Empire State.

Sly decides he doesn't want the new cab F.U. will buy him if he wins the bet; he wants to be a full-time singer. Dolly tells him he's full of manicotti. He thinks she's jealous - and she is, not of his singing but of the fact that his pecs are bigger than hers - and storms out.

But that's only so we can have the big rescue scene when Sly discovers Dolly is in F.U.'s clutches. He leaves the Rhinestone, but can't get a cab or even a bus, so he steals a horse that just conveniently happens to be hanging around this busy New York City street.

He rescues her, of course, and they head back to the Rhinestone where F.U. has packed the crowd with New York's finest hecklers.

They start in on Sly as soon as he starts flexing those muscles and trying to carry a tune. He stops in mid-song and begins working the audience, exhorting all the "studs" and "horny women" to shout "Yay!" Then he launches into an up-tempo version of the same song and now the crowd goes wild.

Sly and Dolly win the bet so they're happy, the crowd is happy even though they've obviously forfeited their heckling fee.

Even F.U. is happy. Already envisioning the marquee "Rocky at the Rhinestone," he offers Sly a job singing there.

So everybody wins - well, everybody except the audience, and your local record retailer still stuck with stacks of the soundtrack to this mess.