Monday, April 7, 2014

'Scuse Me While I Faintly Praise This Sky: "Montana Sky" (2007)

A cable television network adaptation of a Nora Roberts novel should not be this entertaining.

Old Jack Mercy has gone and kicked the bucket. He has left his ranch to his three daughters- spoiled Hollywood screenwriter Tess (Charlotte Ross), the daughter who stayed on the ranch- Willa (Ashley Williams), and Lily (Laura Mennell), who no one around the ranch has met. Apparently, Jack was kind of a bastard, as his will indicates. In order to inherit the ranch, valued at over twenty million dollars, the three sisters must live there for one year. If either of them leaves, the land is donated to a nature conservancy.

The three women are strangers, and immediately take a disliking to each other. Willa's life revolves working with the animals, and spurning the advances of neighbor rancher Ben (John Corbett, who is achingly likable here). Lily is on the run from her ex-husband (Scott Heindl), and the shallow Tess takes a liking to the uncomplicated sheriff Nate (Aaron Pearl). Along with the familial conflict, animals are being killed around the ranch. The killer then graduates to one of the ranch hands, and the viewer has to juggle both the suspense of whether or not Willa and Ben will end up together, and the multitude of red herring suspects in the grisly deaths.

While a very average television film, I found a lot to like about "Montana Sky." The trio of women are all wonderful, and work well together. There is an edge here that I did not expect at all. The opening funeral scene is both catty and darkly funny, and the cast keeps up the snark throughout the film. Veteran director Robe does not become so enraptured with the Albertan scenery (no Montana location shoot here) that he forgets about his cast and story. Technically, there are some hiccups, especially with some funny dubbing mistakes- listen for some scenes where lines sound like they are being delivered into an empty baked beans can. While I eventually figured out who the killer was, the screenplay had me changing my mind a couple of times here and there. I did wonder about Jack's change-of-heart concerning his family, and the film never satisfyingly addresses his motives behind his odd will.

Why John Corbett is not a huge star is beyond me. He is great in this- and you can see why Willa melts when he is around. I recently watched a little movie he was in, that nobody saw, called "Bigger Than the Sky," and his portrayal of a frustrated actor was perfect.

"Montana Sky" could have served as a pilot for a television series about these three different sisters living in Montana, and the show could have worked. It's not great, but not the disaster I smugly thought it was going to be. (* * *) out of five stars.