Accidental Texan

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Brian Landa

Ahhh! West Texas. Those two words conjure up certain imagery, especially for those of us who have done the Dallas or Austin to Los Angeles drive more than once. Eight to 12 hours just to get to El Paso. Sometimes by fate or accident, or both, you can get stuck in Texas.
And that’s what happens in this movie, Accidental Texan, the second feature film from Mark Lambert Bristol, based on the 1999 novel by Cole Thompson: Chocolate Lizards.

Aspiring actor and recent Harvard Business School dropout Erwin Vandeveer (Rudy Pankow, best known for the Netflix teen drama Outer Banks) screws up his very first day on set in a new action movie after driving all the way to New Orleans from the West Coast. He doesn’t follow simple instructions on a hot set, which leads to an equipment malfunction, which leads to immediate firing.
Now, without a job, in a Prius (because of course it is) that breaks down on his way back to face his fate with his livid soon-to-be ex-agent, Erwin finds himself in an real Texas town, Buffalo Gap, not far from Abilene. That’s real Texas oil country as well. Of course, the town is filled with colorful locals, as is required in these types of films.

One local roughneck (slang for oil rig workers) is played by Thomas Haden Church, whom I’ve been following since the Ned & Stacey and Wings days. He’s grown into quite a mature actor with range—a far cry from his man-child in one of the best films of the last 20 years, Sideways, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Definitely worth a rewatch.
It’s great to see Carrie Ann Moss as the clever proprietor of the local diner, who knows exactly who she is and what she wants, as well as the limits. She’s been so cold and villainous recently in other projects, especially as a sinister lawyer in the Marvel Daredevil universe. I also found her Trinity to be quite chilly in the Matrix franchise. Here she is sensitive, kind and smart and someone you can really root for.
Church takes an immediate interest in the new stranger in town, as he might be able to use this kid with (admittedly limited) Harvard business skills and some surprisingly solid acting chops to get out of a serious bind. The plot, which is somewhat predictable in films like this, really serves to lay the groundwork for a surrogate father-son story. There are some deep emotions. Church’s character and his own son have a tragic history, which adds weight, even to the silly stuff.
Accidental Texan indeed takes turns into potential absurdity, with a lot of people being in the same place at the same time, all the time. A bit incredulous, but it serves the story. The apparent comic relief element—some goofy, seemingly incompetent landmen who obtain leases from families sitting on potentially oil-rich property—may be much more sinister than they seem.

Part of the plot involves obtaining an oil lease to prevent foreclosure, though I won’t go into too many details here. One of the landowners is the portrayed by the legendary Bruce Dern, who has had quite the career resurgence playing a grumpy rural curmudgeon in projects like the movie Nebraska and the show Big Love. Dern’s character sure does love his prized cattle, especially one big softy of a beast named Eddie.
Familiar Texas-based character actors pop up here and there as well. As do Texas-made products. They definitely got some Texas sponsorship on this one, because the onscreen Native Texan beer and Whataburger do not go unnoticed (we don’t acknowledge the more recent involvement of carpetbaggers to the north).
Eventually, the movie becomes a race against the clock, but we kind of know where it’s going, and it’s really about the journey. It is a road trip film, after all.

This Messiah, Clarence, is flanked with greaThe oil business is a lot more volatile than laypeople may realize. These are proud people of the Earth. I think it’s no accident that Odessa, Texas (home to the Permian Basin) has the same name as a port city in Ukraine. Some of my Eastern European relatives moved to Texas and Oklahoma in the early 20th century to get into the oil business, and they still are in business.t support by the portrayal of Elijah, his best friend. Later in the story, they are joined by a slave, Jedediah the Terrible diligently presented by Eric Kofi Abrefa (White Widow, BMF) was released from his imprisonment by Clarence. Released
at the request of Judas, one of Jesus’ apostles, who was played by Michael Ward (The Old Guard, Empire of Light).

The intertwined portions of this story with the story of Jesus Christ will madden some uptight Christians. However, if you find your sensibilities maddened, well then you missed EVERY part of what this film is about.

Real or not, the roughneck crew and equipment used for the film look authentic, though some of the situations may not be. Drilling is a time-consuming and complex process, and this movie provides a nice capsule tutorial. It takes weeks, or  possibly months, to drill 6500+ feet. Will they hit their goal? It’s worth the watch to find out.

15th Dallas International Film Festival