The smartest thing director Peter Bogdanovich could have done in making a sequel to The Last Picture Show is forget the original film. Released in 1971, The Last Picture Show was one of the most satisfying movies of its era, a dazzlingly close-to-the-bone Texas soaper with rich, piercing performances, a haunting black-and-white look, and a pungent sense of the desolation — the insular bleakness — of small-town American life during the early ’50s.

For all that, it’s not a film many people remember well — at least not in the way they remember Chinatown or The Godfather. (That’s partly because it has never been released on videocassette.) And so Bogdanovich is in the peculiar position of making a sequel and, at the same time, juggling to keep the original film alive in viewers’ heads. Alas, it can’t be done. In Texasville (based, like the first film, on a Larry McMurtry novel) the lusty, traumatized teens from The Last Picture Show are all back — only now they’re middle-aged and jaded, and we have no idea how they got that way, or why we’re watching them.

Duane (Jeff Bridges), an oil man up to his ears in debt, is a bored philanderer with teenage kids. The quiet, introverted Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) has gone past sadness and into a kind of demented depression; it’s clear he hasn’t forgotten the first movie — he never left. As for the gorgeous heartbreaker Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), she went off years ago and had a foundering career as a grade-B movie actress. Now she’s back, a ravaged echo of the high-school goddess Duane has never stopped dreaming about.

Jacy starts hanging out with Duane’s wife (Annie Potts), who’s jealous but becomes her friend and confidante anyway. And then? Then, very little. The Last Picture Show was a mood piece drenched in acrid despair. Texasville is two hours of flat, Southern Gothic whimsy. The movie has the form of a soaper without the juicy content. It isn’t about people having affairs — it’s about people talking about having affairs. Bogdanovich has been through his share of rough patches, both personal and professional. Now that he has finally gotten this project out of his system, maybe he can get on to the business of rediscovering his talent.

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