July 21, 1980 12:00 PM

As a contemporary Texan who punches clocks at a petrochemical plant instead of cows and raises a nightly ruckus at the Houston honkytonk Gilley’s, John Travolta dances a mean Western jig and fights villain Scott Glenn like a young John Wayne. With the help of newcomers Madolyn Smith and Debra Winger (who sexily struts away with the picture), Travolta also generates extraordinary erotic heat for a PG movie. But even Travolta, photographed with excessive attention and doing his damnedest to block a Stetson around his Brooklyn persona, cannot subdue all the pretensions of the screenplay by director James (The China Syndrome) Bridges and Aaron Latham, whose Esquire article inspired the film. Bridges squanders a full third of the movie showing his star and the studs at Gilley’s trying to keep up their testosterone levels by riding a menacing mechanical bull. The West has changed, the film suggests solemnly, as if Sam Peckinpah had never existed, and Bridges’ bull is forced to bear more symbolic weight than Kubrick’s monolith in 2001. The bull and the film just barely survive the strain. (PG)

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