Matt Dillon stars as the 15 year-old title character, who despite the name is actually from Oklahoma. He has an almost constantly absent rodeo riding father (Bill McKinney) and is therefore mostly looked after by his older brother Mason. Money is tight, whilst they wait for dad to turn up at some point (he often forgets to send money), with Mason hoping to play basketball in college sometime soon. However, unless their father can return and become a consistent part of their lives (their mother has passed), it looks like Mason will be stuck looking after his baby brother. Tex, meanwhile gets into shenanigans at school, as well as striking up a relationship with the sister (Meg Tilly) of his best friend (a very young-looking Emilio Estevez), despite the stern warnings and disapproval of her strict father (Ben Johnson). Frances Lee McCain and author S.E. Hinton turn up as the vice principal/guidance counsellor and a typing teacher, respectively.
As much as I love “The Outsiders”, the other adaptations of S.E. Hinton novels have been pretty uneven (I can’t stand the arty-farty “Rumble Fish”), including this nice, but uneventful 1982 film from debut director Tim Hunter (who, after this and 1986’s very fine “The River’s Edge” has somehow ended up mostly on TV, tragically if you ask me). Although he’s the most Noo Yawk-sounding ‘Tex’ I’ve ever heard, Matt Dillon is terrific in the lead (he’s certainly charismatic), and there’s solid support from a debuting Emilio Estevez, cast-against-type Bill McKinney (hey, at least he’s not raping anyone in the woods in this, OK?), and especially a very sweet Meg Tilly. So acting certainly isn’t the problem here. It’s just that, as scripted by Hunter himself and Charlie Haas (“Over the Edge”, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”, “Matinee”) it really isn’t about a whole helluva lot and takes its sweet arse time not going very far. It’s not exactly plotless, but for a 100 minute film, it’s seriously lacking in conflict…or something. When a gun-toting hitchhiker (well-played by a young Zeljko Ivanek) turns up, and later Tex gets involved in a drug deal, these seem like melodramatic moments brought in from another film. So even when the film is seemingly about something plot-wise/conflict-wise, it doesn’t quite work. I get it, the film is about Tex and his living situation and all of that, which is fairly interesting stuff. However, it’s just not enough to make for a successful feature film. Although he’s solid as always, Hunter doesn’t get much usage out of veteran character actor Ben Johnson, who plays the rather vanilla role of Emilio Estevez and Meg Tilly’s father. He just doesn’t get much to work with there, which is a shame.
Nice, well-intentioned, fairly mature-minded release from Disney doesn’t have enough going on to really amount to a whole helluva lot. It’s typical Hinton material, but lesser in quality, seemingly. I like some of what it’s about, but what it has isn’t enough to sustain an entire film. It’s decidedly lacking and frankly a little dull, aimless and wandering. The cast is good (probably one of Meg Tilly’s best turns), and a lot of people seem to like it, so perhaps it’s just me.