If you’ve seen video clips of Lane Frost, the Oklahoma rodeo star, or even if you’ve just heard Garth Brooks pay homage to him in the 1990 song ”The Dance,” you might imagine that his story would make a terrific movie. Few (if any) solo sports combine agility and sheer what-the-hell bravado the way rodeo does: When the competitors, who try to stay astride violent, seesawing bulls for at least eight seconds, are thrown to the ground, they’re like bullfighters who’ve been stranded without their capes. In addition, Frost had the rawboned glamour and lean proletarian ease of a modern showbiz cowboy. Skill may have taken him to the top, but it was his self-effacing country-boy mystique that made him a Sun Belt superstar — and that made it seem all the more tragic when, in 1989, at the age of 25, he was gored in the ring and died of a punctured heart.
The strange thing is, after watching 8 Seconds, the genial rise-to-glory biopic that has been fashioned from Frost’s life, I was still thinking that yes, this would make a terrific movie. As Lane, Luke Perry, his skinny handsomeness set off by an aw-shucks smile, certainly looks the part, and he delivers his lines in a thick cornpone drawl that makes him seem the soul of amiability. Perry, though, is still Perry: smooth, lightweight, innocuous — a star without edges. The movie doesn’t help by presenting Lane as a saint in training. He’s nothing more than a super-sweet dude who eschews alcohol and chewing tobacco, gives inspirational pep talks to kids, and courts the beautiful, earnest Kellie (Cynthia Geary) like the last perfect gentleman in Oklahoma. His obsession with riding eventually chafes at his marriage, but the conflict resolves itself as quickly as it appears. The rodeo sequences, while nicely shot, lack suspense, if only because most of the riding is obviously being done by stunt doubles. Still, near the end, it’s impossible not to be moved by the brutal suddenness with which Lane is cut down. His tragedy underscores an element of rodeo’s primal appeal: that beneath the rowdy high spirits, death is always just a bull’s horn away.