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Although The White River Kid is optimistically described by its distributors as “an outrageous comedy with a heart” and “a zany adventure with a plethora of oddball characters on the road in the Bible Belt,” actual reviews of this more or less universally panned film are less kind. Indeed, one reviewer described it as “a messy comedy infested with bad gags.” The White River Kid (video title White River) relies on negative stereotypes of Arkansans, portraying them as moronic rednecks or merely simple folk for much of its material. Based on the John Fergus Ryan novel The Little Brothers of St. Mortimer (1991), it was filmed on location in and around Hot Springs (Garland County) and other Arkansas locations during the summer of 1998.
In the starring role as the White River Kid, a psychotic serial killer with a butterfly tattooed on his face, is native Arkansan Wes Bentley, who is better known for his role in the Oscar-winning film American Beauty. The cast also includes such well-known celebrities as Antonio Banderas (who also served as executive producer and received no salary for his acting because, according to one source, he liked the script and owed director Arne Glimcher, who directed him in The Mambo Kings, a favor), Bob Hoskins, Swoosie Kurtz, Beau Bridges, Randy Travis, and Ellen Barkin. In a considerably smaller role (that of the proprietor of a bar/dance club called Boot Scooters) is Arkansas native Roger Clinton, brother of President Bill Clinton.
The plot of the movie is somewhat convoluted. Brother Edgar (Hoskins) is a con artist masquerading as a holy man selling low-quality factory socks purportedly made by blind Christian children. Accompanying him is Morales Pittman (Banderas), an illegal “wetback” with a propensity for quoting from law journals and randomly spouting phrases in French or German; Morales wants nothing more than to part company with Brother Edgar. While selling socks at Timberfest, a small-town Arkansas festival, the two become unwillingly associated with the Kid, who claims he only kills “Woollygumps” or “Woollygums” (it seems to be pronounced both ways in the film). A Woollygump, according to the Kid, can be differentiated from a real person by the eyes, which have no light in them. He describes the Woollygumps, who try to kill him, as being “just like fog, risin’ from the river”; he also claims that, as they are not actual people, “nobody cares if you kill ’em all.”
The Kid and his fiancée, Apple Lisa Weed, carjack Brother Edgar and Morales and force them to drive to Apple Lisa’s home in the hills. It is there that Apple Lisa’s parents (Bridges and Kurtz) first appear, a stereotypically hillbilly couple generally referred to as Daddy and Mama Weed (or Mr. and Mrs.—pronounced “Miz-rez”—Weed). They live in a shack raising and selling rabbits for income. In another jab at the intellect of Arkansas hill folk, the character of Mama Weed prays to and dresses like Elvis Presley because, according to her, he cured her cancer. It is after the Kid meets Apple Lisa’s loving, if weird, family that he expresses a desire to stay there and make the Weed house his home, and by implication give up his Woollygump-murdering ways.
In addition to the Kid plot thread, there is also one involving corrupt small-town law enforcement in the form of Sheriff Becker (Travis), as well as another dealing with a “soiled dove” blind prostitute (who, it is revealed at the end of the film, is not really blind) named Eva Nell La Fangroy (Barkin) who runs a “teahouse”; Brother Edgar has a liaison with her and forms an emotional attachment. None of these plot threads fit together coherently.
This film was never shown in theaters; rather, its first release was on video in Spain and Bulgaria in 1999, followed by a U.S. debut in 2001 on the Starz movie channel as a Starz Pictures Premier.
For additional information:
Dumont, Doug. “‘The White River Kid’ Takes Caddo Gap.” Mountain Signal, October 1998, 23–24.
White River. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2001.
Courtney Moore ClementsBlack River Technical College
Last Updated 4/26/2016
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