Dolly Parton stars in Wild Texas Wind, a drama about a country singer who’s not as much of a success as, say, Dolly Parton. Her Thiola Rayfield is a struggling performer who spends most of her life on the road, playing dinky nightclubs with her band, led by her friend and guitarist Ben Rayson (played by Ray Benson of the real-life act Asleep at the Wheel; Ben Rayson, Ray Benson — get it?).
One night Thiola meets Justice Parker, the owner of a new Texas nightclub, played by Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story, Point Break). They fall in love, Justice promises to use his music-biz connections to get Thiola a record contract, and everything seems peachy — except that Justice is a hard-drinking manic-depressive who beats Thiola when his mood swings turn nasty.
For a while, Wild Texas Wind becomes yet another problem movie about domestic violence — a serious theme cheapened by melodrama and psychobabble (”I’m not willing to give up my dignity and self-respect just because you’ve lost yours,” says the until-then-inarticulate Thiola). But it’s not giving too much away to reveal that about halfway through the film, Justice is killed, and Wind, directed with idiosyncratic energy by Joan Tewkesbury (she wrote Robert Altman’s Nashville), takes off in pleasingly unexpected directions.
Parton is charming as always, if a little stiff in her dramatic scenes; Busey is beguiling throughout, whether he’s being a good ol’ boy or a monster. Willie Nelson has a fine, low-key cameo as himself, and Dennis Letts is spectacular as Justice’s grinningly cruel father. Watching him, you know how his son got that way. B