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DON’T COME KNOCKING (director/writer: Wim Wenders; screenwriters: based on a story by Sam Shepard/Sam Shepard; cinematographer: Franz Lustig; editors: Peter Przygodda/Oli Weiss; music: T Bone Burnett; cast: Sam Shepard (Howard Spence), Jessica Lange (Doreen), Tim Roth (Sutter), Gabriel Mann (Earl), Sarah Polley (Sky), Fairuza Balk (Amber), Eva Marie Saint (Howard’s Mother), George Kennedy (Director); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Peter Schwartzkopff/Karsten Bruenig/In-Ah Lee; Sony Pictures Classics; 2005)
“… is so meandering it can make a sober viewer into a drunk.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Don’t Come Knocking reunites the playwright and screenwriter Sam Shepard with hip German director Wim Wenders (“Lisbon Story”/”The End of Violence”) some 20 or so years after their scintillating 1984 collaboration in “Paris, Texas.” Too bad the loopy film muffs the opportunity and merely passes the time in idle without being too taxing on the old noodle. It’s another strange odyssey film from the duo, with this time Shephard also starring. It tells about self-discovery and lives wasted, but can’t hold a candle to their first film together. It’s stuck with clunky dialogue, a clichéd Western scenario that mixes Hollywood’s West with the contemporary West, a muddled narrative and is so meandering it can make a sober viewer into a drunk.

Burnt-out cowboy star from the mid-’70s Howard Spence (Sam Shepard) after a drinking binge goes galloping off on horseback off the Arches National Park in Utah set of his latest Western and has the director (George Kennedy) aghast. Stern insurance investigator Sutter (Tim Roth), who hates the real world even more than Howard, goes on Howard’s trail, determined to bring him back to the set so his company doesn’t have to pay off on the policy the studio took out to make sure the unstable Howard completed the picture. Howard ends up taking a bus to Elko, Nev., home of his mother (Eva Marie Saint), whom he inexplicably hasn’t seen in 30 years. They have little to say to each other, but before he takes off again the still protective mom says in passing that a woman from Butte, Mont., where he long ago made a film, once phoned her saying she gave birth to his son. He impulsively drives to the now nearly deserted once boomtown of Butte to meet the son he never knew he had and first meets the waitress mother of his child, named Doreen (Jessica Lange), who now owns the bar/restaurant. She points out his son is named Earl (Gabriel Mann), who turns out to be a hostile dude working as a lounge country singer and living with a low-life girlfriend (Fairuza Balk). When Earl learns who his dad is, he replies by tossing all his belongings out his apartment window. If Earl wasn’t enough of a contrivance, Howard’s also being stalked by Sky (Sarah Polley) while she’s carrying around an urn with the ashes of her recently deceased mother. The mysterious Sky turns out to be Howard’s other child, who reacts with sheer joy in seeing her long lost dad. Her character is so thinly drawn that it makes no difference if she was in the film or wasn’t (her actions can be construed as being unintentionally funny).

Where this all leads is nowhere; that is, the persistent Sutter eventually brings the relieved bad boy film star back to complete his “Phantom of the West” movie and all seems to be forgiven between Howard and his now larger family, as he’s accepted back as the stupid jerk he is because they’re also not too swift and are more like plot devices than real family anyway. But there’s nevertheless some things to admire in this disappointing Wenders’s film, such as the twangy country guitar sounds coming from T-Bone Burnett’s score and the absolutely gorgeous shimmering vistas and casino location shots by cinematographer Franz Lustig.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”