In the 80’s I’d see just about anything with Molly Ringwald in it. After all, I was a teenage guy, she was a teenage girl, and she was dang cute! With her roles in many John Hughes films she was the poster girl of the 80’s teen movie craze. There was one film, though, that I missed at the time of its release. I certainly wasn’t the only one that let this one slip by. Here and gone in a blink was 1988’s Fresh Horses.
The story centers on a Cincinnati college student named Matt Larkin (Ringwald’s Pretty in Pink beau Andrew McCarthy). All is good for Matt. He’s doing well in school and he’s on the verge of moving way up with his upcoming marriage to his wealthy girlfriend. One day, however, his best friend Tipton (Ben Stiller) tells him about a never-ending party that happens at a house, across the river, in the rural realm known as Kentucky. Apparently anyone can just come by any time they want…drink some beer, shoot some pool, and the owner, Jean (Patti D’Arbanville) couldn’t care less. Of course, the two guys decide to pay a visit. While there, Matt encounters the mysterious red-headed beauty called Jewel (Ringwald).
A few days later Matt returns and he and Jewel spend a lot of time chatting and walking along train tracks. Before long, Matt has completely fallen for Jewel and decides to break off his engagement. Tipton, of course thinks Matt is crazy, especially after he learns two interesting pieces of gossip. Number one: Jewel is married to an abusive reject from Deliverance named Green (Viggo Mortensen). Number two: she’s actually only sixteen years old. When Matt confronts her about this she admits to the marriage but stands by her claim of being 20. It’s never exactly made clear which is true. Various arguments and lovemaking sessions occur between Matt and Jewel as the film progresses. When she ends up leaving him and returning to Green, however, the abuse starts up again and worse than ever. This leaves Matt with no choice but to confront the slimey bumpkin.
Fresh Horses seems like it must’ve been an attempt to give Molly Ringwald a bit more “grown-up” part. She would’ve been about 19 or so when this film was made and the producers clearly did whatever they could to try and vamp her up a bit. With the mystery of her character’s age being a major plot device here, though, that whole thing becomes problematic.
Ultimately the big problem here is that when everything is said and done, and the viewer has a moment to reflect on what they just saw, they suddenly realized that they just watched a whole lot of nothing. The film literally meanders for an hour and 45 minutes, usually in the vicinity of railroad tracks. The film sure seems to think very highly of itself, but nothing interesting happens.
The cast is just plain wasted. Ringwald is certainly flirting with a sexier approach than she’d done in any of her other films, but just doesn’t quite commit all the way. Andrew McCarthy is doing his Pretty in Pink character beat for beat. Ben Stiller, not yet known for his comedy stylings and clamoring to be a fringe member of the Brat Pack, feels out-of-place. Lastly there’s Viggo Mortensen, who hints and being a truly creepy villain, but has barely any screen time.
Of course, Fresh Horse is just one of the many examples of how the teen stars of the 80’s struggled when the studios decided they needed to grow up. It’s no surprise really that audiences didn’t want to trade the brightness of a John Hughes flick for the utter dreariness that engulfs this film. Ringwald’s still cute, though.