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Originally published Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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'The Last Ride': Hank Williams takes back seat to young driver

A movie review of "The Last Ride," a dull but sometimes sweet tale about the last day on Earth for seminal country singer Hank Williams (Henry Thomas). Jesse James plays the hired driver unaware of just who is in the back seat of his car.

Seattle Times arts critic

Movie review 2 stars

'The Last Ride' with Henry Thomas, Jesse James, Fred Dalton Thompson, Kaley Cuoco. Directed by Harry Thomason, from a screenplay by Howie Klausner and Dub Cornett. 103 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some language, a fight and smoking. Sundance Cinemas.

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Making a dramatic, based-on-fact film about the last day on Earth for seminal country singer Hank Williams is a great idea. Williams died in 1952 — of whiskey, drugs and fast living at 29 — in the back seat of a car, on the way to a gig.

But, alas, "The Last Ride" doesn't deliver much insight into Williams or the lifestyle that killed him. And while there are some sweet moments, it's riddled with clichés about the South, masculinity and coming of age. No doubt because of licensing expenses, not one Hank Williams performance appears on the soundtrack.

The movie is really about the young man, Silas (Jesse James), hired to drive Williams in his '52 El Dorado. He's a timid young virgin working in a service station who has no direction or ambition and a dark family past. Over the course of their erratic drive, Williams, called "Mr. Wells" in the film and played by Henry Thomas, goads Silas into taking the kinds of chances Wells is about to die of — passing cars on the right, drinking moonshine and "honky-tonkin' " with women.

The film's amusing though rather implausible conceit is that Silas, who doesn't care for music, has no idea who the Williams character is. James, nevertheless, does a good job with expressive close-ups, conveying insights slowly dawning on him. Thomas, however, is not quite believable as a thoughtful and caring mentor. Kaley Cuoco, as the female interest, Wanda, is striking and a welcome presence in what is by and large a dull film with a flat script (by Howie Klausner, who wrote "Space Cowboys") that feels as if it were adapted from a play (it wasn't).

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

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