‘Cry Macho’ is a weak addition to Clint Eastwood’s 50-year filmography

At 91, Clint Eastwood’s long career as a filmmaker and longer one as a star are far more interesting than “Cry Macho,” an understated, uneventful slog of a movie that feels like a misguided merger of “Gran Torino” and “Bronco Billy.” Blame many of the problems on a woefully weak script, but this largely two-character road movie never really gets out of park.

It’s a shame, since the title, and a late-in-the-film monologue, offer a chance for Eastwood to contemplate questions of manhood and aging through the prism of his tough-guy screen image, but any bigger ideas are lost in the minutia of the plot and cartoonish nature of most of the supporting characters.

Adapted from the late N. Richard Nash’s novel by the author and Nick Schenk (who worked with Eastwood on “Gran Torino” and “The Mule”), the premise feels equally strained. Set in 1979, Eastwood plays Mike Milo, a Texas rodeo legend sidelined by an accident, tragedy and age.

For some reason, his former boss (Dwight Yoakam) tasks Mike with traveling down to Mexico to bring back his long-lost son, now almost 13 — a chore he can’t carry out himself because of acrimony with his ex-wife (Fernanda Urrejola) and vague legal complications.

Mike quickly finds the boy, Rafo (newcomer Eduardo Minett), but the road trip back — accompanied by a battling rooster named Macho — hits multiple potholes, in ways that will do little to improve US-Mexico relations. Granted, the pair encounter a few good souls — foremost among them a widow (Natalia Traven) who won’t take no for an answer when it comes to feeding them — but they seem easily outnumbered by corrupt cops and car thieves.

Ostensibly, like “Gran Torino,” the movie is about an unlikely bond forged between a young boy and a cranky old coot. But the arc of that isn’t helped by having the kid change his mind like a windshield wiper in terms of what he wants, the unlikable adults and jokes and lighter moments that simply don’t land most of the time.

Affiliated with Warner Bros. (like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia) since the mid-’70s, Eastwood has amassed an impressive and eclectic body of directorial work over the last half-century, dating back to “Play Misty For Me” in 1971. In between he directed a pair of Oscar winners, “Million Dollar Baby” and “Unforgiven,” but the record has proven more uneven over the last decade, with successes in “American Sniper” and “Sully,” and less satisfying efforts like “Richard Jewell.”

Give him credit, perhaps, for refusing to rest on those laurels when it would have been easy to hang up his spurs. But “Cry Macho” is a particularly forgettable addition to that filmography, and to paraphrase one of his most famous characters, won’t make anyone’s day.

“Cry Macho” premieres Sept. 17 in US theaters and on HBO Max. It’s rated PG-13.

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