A plucky rooster named Macho, a wayward teenager, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), and a faded rodeo star played with a familiar dyspeptic wince by Clint Eastwood get off to a rough start with lots of literally and figuratively ruffled feathers, when making their way from Mexico to Texas.
"Cry Macho" is a creaky, semisweet, unavoidably sentimental adaptation of a 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash, and Eastwood's latest reckoning with certain wrongheaded assumptions about masculinity.
Minett, a Mexican TV actor making his Hollywood debut, sometimes struggles to make something emotionally credible out of the clumsy formulations of the script (credited to Nash and Nick Schenk, a 1984 grad of Columbia Heights High School). But Eastwood, now 91, betrays no more strain than usual. You can roll your eyes at his signature mannerisms, but taking those eyes off him is another matter.
His weathered scowl and stiff gait suit Mike Milo seamlessly, as does personal tragedy — a rodeo career cut short by injury and a wife and child he lost years ago — that recalls any number of Eastwood's many soulful sufferers.
Some of those earlier roles were also written by Schenk, and "Cry Macho" echoes them in ways too deliberate to chalk up to coincidence. Like Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino" (but with less racism), Mike must bond with a youngster whose culture is alien to him. And like Earl Stone in "The Mule" (but with less drug-cartel mayhem), Mike finds himself on a Mexican road trip that turns out to be more than he bargained for.
He's sent on this mission by his demanding former boss, Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), who wants to reunite with his long-absent son, Rafo, who's trapped in his mother's allegedly abusive clutches.
"This macho thing is overrated," Eastwood says, "just people trying to be macho and show that they've got grit." For true grit, he scarcely has to add, you need look no further than himself.
Rating: PG-13, language and thematic elements
Theaters: Wide release and HBO Max.