Mike’s cowboyin’ days are behind him. A lot of days are behind him, really, but he has one sizeable favor still hanging out there, and Howard has come to cash in. Howard has a son stuck in Mexico, and the mother isn’t taking his calls. It’s an abusive situation, Howard tells Mike, and I want to be a father. So it’s up to Mike to head on down to Mexico, collect the kid, and bring him back to Texas. Should take a couple of days, Howard says. Sure, Mike replies. He’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

Mike (Clint Eastwood) and Howard (Dwight Yoakam) have a past, which comes up when the script calls for it, but zero chemistry. It creates a giant hole in the middle of Cry Macho’s story—you never quite buy Mike and Howard’s relationship and spend most of the movie waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it does, it’s underwhelming.

So it is with the kid, Rafa (Eduardo Minett), a generous widow (Natalia Travern) Mike and Rafa come across, and the smattering of bad guys who enter and exit Cry Macho’s loosely constructed narrative with little fanfare or consequence.

And there’s very little consequence in Cry Macho, the latest feature from the 91-year-old filmmaker. Eastwood directs, produces, and stars, and that feels like a feat in and of itself. But the movie says otherwise. It feels like one more bite at the apple long after the taste ran dry.

And as tired as the performances are, the story is worse. Cry Macho doesn’t play like a movie; it feels like someone found scenes cut from better movies and assembled them as best they could. The dusty towns Mike and Rafa stop in all blend together. So do the antagonists and the broken-down jalopies Mike and Rafa boost to make their way back to the border. Even the good Samaritans who might be in harm’s way for associating with Mike and Rafa are free from jeopardy. Cry Macho might be the nicest cross-the-border-and-rescue-the-kid narrative ever. Or just the laziest.

Which is all the more curious: Eastwood is a magnificent performer and an impeccable judge of story. He sat on David Webb Peoples’ Unforgiven script for a decade until he felt old enough to play Will Munny. And his recent work behind the camera shows his ability to command the frame is nothing short of masterful. Sully may not have any pyrotechnics, but its calm, cool, and controlled demeanor fit the material like a glove. Why isn’t any of that in Cry Macho? Why the rote observations about aging, redemption, loyalty, race relations, generational gaps, good people, bad people, animals, romance—you name it? Cry Macho is stuffed to the gills, but it all feels unformed and lacks insight. It’s as if Eastwood gathered a cast and crew in New Mexico and waited for a movie to manifest. It didn’t.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Cry Macho (2021)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Nick Schenk, N. Richard Nash
Based on N. Richard Nash’s novel of the same name
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Jessica Meier, Tim Moore, Albert S. Ruddy
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Dwight Yoakam, Natalia Traven, Eduardo Minett, Fernanda Urrejola
Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, Running time 100 minutes, Opens Sept. 17, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max.