Wild Hearts – Nancy McKeon


Nancy McKeon was one of my favorite actresses when I was a kid and I recently re-discovered her when I ran across some reruns of The Facts Of Life on TV.

A lot of her other work happened during a period of time when I didn’t watch much TV, so I decided to try to catch up on some of her other projects. I’m starting with the 2006 Hallmark TV movie Wild HeartsThe reason I picked this as my starting point, is the movie is already on my DVR.

Wild Hearts Plot Summary (Spoilers):

Wild Hearts begins with a girl at a skate park. Or maybe it’s not a skate park, since when a cop car shows up, most of the skaters take off running. Two cops get out of the car and one of them, played by Richard (John-Boy) Thomas, asks the girl how many times he’s going to have to ask her not to do this down here. The girl, whose name is Madison, snarkily asks if he’s going to arrest her and he gives her the bad news that her grandfather died last night. Madison replies, “I’m sorry dad,” before getting in the backseat of the cop car and leaving.

Back at the house, Madison and her dad, whose name is Bob, are saying their goodbyes to their friends, since they are preparing to move from L.A. to the ranch they just inherited in a small town in Montana. Madison doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about the move. Madison leafs through some sort of scrap-book, which contains a newspaper clipping with the headline “Cop’s Wife Slain.”

On the car ride to Montana, Madison questions why she never met her grandfather. Bob explains that his mother died when he was 6 and after that all his father seemed to care about was the ranch. Madison’s mother wanted to move to L.A. and Bob just wanted to get away from the ranch, so they left. His father told him that if he left the ranch, not to call or come back, so he didn’t. Sounds like grandpa was a bit of a hard ass.

Once they arrive in town, Bob has a conversation with the mayor, who excitedly tells him about all the progress their small town is making. They’re building a mall and after that they’re planning on condos and a casino. Bob is apparently taking over for his father as town sheriff until the next election comes along, even though the mayor assures him that there is no crime in their town.

Madison’s nose ring gets quite a lot of attention from the locals, including a cowboy hat wearing, straw chewing young man, named Tim, who engages in a bit of meet cute, as Madison waits for her father outside city hall. Tim turns out to be the grandson of the mayor.

Madison and Bob arrive at the Hart Ranch and are introduced to the mustangs. One of the mustangs, named Lucinda, lost her mother and the local vet has been looking after her, while they try to get her to eat. Shortly after, the vet, whose name is Emily, played by Nancy McKeon, shows up at the barn to check on the filly. Emily tells a surprised Bob that his father was very charming and she loved him. She also wins some points with Madison, by letting her listen to Lucinda’s heartbeat with her stethoscope. She discusses Lucinda with Hank, the man who has been looking after the ranch, and Hank says she isn’t showing much improvement, but he’d hate to put her down. Madison quickly vetoes the idea of putting Lucinda down and Emily says they will keep trying to get her to eat and see what happens, before saying she has to leave to look after a sick goat.

A former classmate of Bob’s, named Cody, shows up. He is involved in building the new mall the mayor told them about. He tells everyone he gave Bob a hard time back in their school days, when Bob was a “runt” and Cody was captain of the football team. Cody wants to buy the ranch, but Bob turns him down.

Madison goes for a walk with Emily, who’s sick goat is apparently not that pressing a concern. Emily tells her that she dated Cody when she first moved to town, until she found out he was married. Worse yet, she suspects he only dated her to begin with, because he wanted to buy her land. Not cool Cody. She tells Madison that her dad did a good thing coming back to take care of the ranch, but Madison isn’t so sure. She refers to the town as “Hicksville.” Emily responds that not everyone can live in L.A. or wants to.

When Bob goes to visit his father’s grave, he finds evidence that someone has been “dry drilling” on the land. He questions Hank about whether his father ever hired any surveyors to come out and test for a well and Hank says “no.”

Tim makes another appearance and Emily tells Madison that he is her assistant. They attend to the sick goat, which sneezes all over Madison’s hand and then Emily asks Tim to give Madison “the tour.”

Later on, Madison grabs an apple from the house and takes it out to the barn, where she manages to persuade Lucinda to eat. She returns to the house and e-mails her friend. At first she celebrates that she doesn’t think her father will stay in Montana long, but then reconsiders and writes a much more enthusiastic sounding message about life on the ranch.

Bob heads off to work and orders Hank to keep Madison busy cleaning stalls and mending fences and such. Hank teaches Madison to ride a horse. That evening, Bob discovers that his father had kept a collection of newspaper clippings about Bob’s accomplishments in L.A. and that he also had a packet of letters he exchanged with Bob’s late wife. Madison discovers her father crying over the letters, but returns to her room without saying anything to him. She spots a wolf howling outside her window.

breakfastAt breakfast, Madison tells Bob how amazing she thought the wolf she saw was. Hank interrupts Bob and Madison’s breakfast with the disturbing news that one of the horses has been killed. The three of them go to look at the dead horse and Hank tells them that wolves did it. Madison objects, suggesting her father should do a bit more investigating before he blames wolves for the death. Madison wants to know if there is something they can do besides kill the wolves and Hank suggests Emily could bring a tranquilizer gun and they could tranq the wolf and then take it to the mountains and turn it loose.

Emily shows up with a tranquilizer gun, which Bob takes from her and then heads off with Hank, ordering Madison to stay by the truck. Madison stays behind with Tim and Emily goes off with Hank and Bob. Tim asks Madison if she’s going to come to the über fun 4th of July hoe-down at the community center, but Madison hops out of the truck without answering and then proceeds to head off after her father, motioning for Tim to come with.

Madison tells Tim that she’s sure it wasn’t wolves that killed the horse and that she felt a real connection with the wolf she saw outside her window. Tim tells Madison he thinks she watches too much TV. Madison and Tim catch up to the adults, just as a wolf approaches. Bob shoots the wolf with the tranquilizer dart and she falls from the ledge she was standing on.

pupsEmily checks on the wolf and announces that she’s alright, but has a broken leg, just as two wolf pups emerge from the woods. Madison and Tim collect the pups and they transport the mother wolf back to Emily’s place, where Emily patches up her leg. Emily assures the others that the wolf will be fine, while Madison fawns over the pups. Bob warns Madison not to get too attached to the pups, since they aren’t pets and will soon be back in the wild, where they belong.

hoe-downMadison and Tim go to the hoe-down, where Tim coerces Madison into dancing with him. Bob also shows up at the dance and Emily tries to strike up a conversation, but he wanders off to talk to some guy he knows named Sam, after confirming that Cody is married to the mayor’s daughter. Shortly after, Bob gets a call that Sam’s place is on fire. Most of the town appears to be gathered in front of Sam’s store and the mayor tells Bob that Sam probably left some machinery on or something, like he’s done many times before and suggests that “the old codger” is losing it. Bob tells the mayor that he’ll begin investigating tomorrow and the mayor questions why, after all this isn’t L.A. and people don’t go setting fires.

Bob begins investigating the fire and Sam assures him that he didn’t leave anything on, or at least he doesn’t think he did. Sam muses that maybe he should have sold out to that mall when he had a chance. Back at the ranch, Madison is alone with the wolves and shares her thoughts about  her mom’s death. She tells them that she learned about her mother’s death on TV and whenever she questioned her dad about it, he would get angry, so she stopped asking. Emily quietly approaches from behind and listens to Madison talk. After Madison declares how great her mom was, Emily walks off.

Bob tracks down Cody and asks him where he was yesterday. Cody claims he was playing pool and gets an employee named Jake, to confirm his alibi. Cody asks Bob what he wants for the ranch and Bob replies, “What do you want it for? Are you going to burn it down if I say no?”

Back at Emily’s place, Emily is trying to check on the mother wolf’s broken leg, but the wolf snarls and snaps at her. Emily and Tim are surprised when the wolf immediately calms down when Madison shows up with some pb&j sandwiches and Emily asks Madison to stand by the wolf’s pen and keep talking, while she tries to examine the wolf again. Madison keeps the wolf calm and Emily manages to successfully examine her.

Madison writes another e-mail to her friend and reveals that her father has been staying up all night guarding the animals, because they have now had two mustangs killed. However, she notes that she thinks both she and her father are happier now than they have been in a long time. She also tells her friend how cute and good and funny Tim is.

Bob calls the mayor into his office and tells him that he’s convinced the fire at Sam’s was no accident. However, the mayor insists that the fire was probably caused by Sam leaving his equipment on. Bob reveals that he has been going through the files on all the land deals around town and points out that Cody and his San Francisco group have been buying up as much land as they can. The mayor is flustered and decides to go out to lunch.

Back at the ranch, Lucinda is doing much better and has been eating on her own. Emily stays for dinner and Bob invites her to stay and drink some of his fancy L.A. wine. Madison and Tim wander off, to give them some space, but then return to spy on them.

Emily tells Bob he has an amazing daughter and talks about Madison’s connection with the mother wolf. Bob is pissed that Madison has been hanging out with the wolves, because he didn’t want her getting too attached to them. He tells Emily that Madison can put things in her ear and her nose, but she’s still a child. Emily tells him that she didn’t know, since Madison told her he said it was OK. Emily tells Bob that Madison is growing up and he’s going to have to deal with that at some point. Furthermore, she thinks Madison has a “gift” and if she shows up at her place again, she’s not sending her home. Guess she told you. Emily leaves Bob to drink his fancy wine by himself and Madison tells Tim she’ll see him later. That night, Emily takes her ear and nose rings out.

The next morning at breakfast, Bob lectures Madison about not doing what she was told, regarding the wolves. Hank interrupts again, to tell them that two more horses have been killed. Madison takes this as proof that it wasn’t her wolf who killed the other horses. Bob finds motor oil on the ground near the dead horses and commands Hank to keep a watch over the others that night.

Bob continues to investigate the fire at Sam’s place. Cody and the mayor complain that Bob’s investigation is holding up progress on the new mall. Bob finds a lighter in the rubble of the building and the mayor urges him to keep it quiet, lest the criminals try to sneak out-of-town.

Back at Emily’s, Emily tells Madison and Tim that they’ll keep the mother wolf one more night for observation, but that she should be ready to return to the wild tomorrow. Madison doesn’t look too happy and Emily reminds her that they can’t keep the wolves forever. Tim tries to comfort her, but is interrupted when the mother wolf begins to howl. Madison immediately panics and runs off searching for one of the pups.

Madison finds one of the pups near the grate of some sort of pipe and decides the other must have gone inside. Tim tells her to wait for him and goes to get a flashlight and some rope, but Madison ignores him and goes into the pipe. Madison retrieves the pup and tells Tim that she thinks he’s going to make a really great vet.

Bob goes back to talk to Jake and shows him the lighter he found in the rubble at Sam’s. He tells Jake he thinks he found Cody’s lighter and Jake looks at it and confirms that it is Cody’s. Meanwhile, Cody is having an argument with the mayor about the land deals he is trying to push through. The mayor asks him if he burned down Sam’s store and Cody tells the mayor to just make it go away, or else he will.

Emily invites Bob to have some lemonade in the park. She apologizes to him for being “out of line” about Madison. Bob tells her that he thought a lot about what she said and he doesn’t want to break Madison’s spirit. Plus, he knew Madison was going to Emily’s place the whole time. Emily tells Bob that the wolves are ready to be released and asks to borrow Hank. She also confirms with him that everything is alright between her and Bob.

Bob returns to the ranch and has a bonding moment with Madison. He tells her that he’s not mad about the wolves and Madison tells him that she’s alright, even though releasing the wolves is sad for her. She asks him to let her comfort him when he is sad, the way he comforts her.

Bob shows the mayor the lighter he found and tells him that it belongs to his son-in-law and that arson is a crime. The mayor says he doesn’t know anything about it. He also denies knowing anything about silver, dry-drilling or killing horses. He tells the mayor he plans to arrest Cody when he returns from San Francisco and anyone else who was involved. The mayor calls Cody and warns him not to come into town when he returns, but instead to meet him at the mine.

Madison, Tim, Hank and Emily release the wolves. Madison decides she wants to walk home by herself and Emily suggests she take Tim with her. Tim nervously kisses Madison and then takes her to the abandoned silver mine (surprise, surprise!). Madison immediately decides to pick the lock on the gate and go take a look at the mine, in spite of Tim’s protests. They discover a bunch of stuff marked with the name of the company that is building the new mall.

The mayor shows up and Tim and Madison hide behind some crates. After seeing the unlocked gate, the mayor searches for them, but is interrupted by a beat up looking Cody. Cody tells him that the “Hillridge boys” are not very happy. The mayor replies that neither is he and Cody is sloppy and impatient. Cody tells the mayor if he thinks Cody is bad, he doesn’t want to meet the boys from San Francisco, because they’ll slit his throat or get Cody to do it. The Mayor demands to know if Cody killed Bob’s horses. Cody says, “so what if I did?” and the mayor tells him he didn’t agree to that or to arson either. Cody tells him he plans to poison the rest of the horses tonight. The mayor objects, but Cody threatens him and tells him once Bob is gone, they’ll be strip mining in no time.

Madison mouths “go tell my dad” to Tim and Tim sneaks out of the mine. The mayor tells Cody that Bob is going to arrest him, but Cody says he can’t arrest him, if he can’t find him. He’s also planning to burn down Emily’s barn, to try to force her into accepting his offer to buy her land. The mayor tells Cody he doesn’t want any part of this and Cody threatens him with a knife. Madison runs out from behind the crate and Cody trips her. Madison appears to be out cold.

Bob shows up at Emily’s, looking for Madison. When he finds out she isn’t there, he decides to wait. Tim arrives at the ranch, hollering for the sheriff and Hank calls him on his cell. Back at the mine, Cody ties Madison up. The mayor tries to convince Madison that he didn’t do anything illegal. Cody tells Madison to keep quiet and when she refuses, he suggests he is going to make her disappear, in spite of the mayor’s objections. As Cody prepares to duct tape Madison’s mouth, the mother wolf shows up and backs him off.

Bob and Hank arrive at the mine and head in, with guns drawn. Bob commands Emily and Tim to wait by the truck, but they don’t listen. When Bob spots the snarling wolf, Madison urges him to put his gun away and approach her very slowly, while she reassures the wolf that her dad is there to help her. Bob unties Madison and the wolf runs off. He then arrests Cody and the mayor.

bob-emilyMadison says her goodbyes to Tim, who has to return to school, bur promises to visit her on weekends. She tells him she wants to be a vet also. Bob plants a kiss on Emily after confirming that they are done apologizing to each other. Madison and Tim think Emily and Bob make a great couple, just like they do.

Wild Hearts Commentary (Spoilers):

I’m not sure I’d exactly call Wild Hearts a good movie, but it was a decent enough pieces of light entertainment.

The plot is pretty predictable. As soon as the mayor said there was no crime in their little town, I knew there was going to be some big case for Bob to solve.

As soon as Tim and Emily showed up, I knew they’d end up in some sort of romance plot with Madison and Bob. Similarly, it was pretty obvious Cody was going to end up being the villain.

Probably the most surprising thing for me was that Madison didn’t end up discovering some sort of damning evidence about Cody’s evil plans while crawling around in the pipe looking for the wolf pup.

Even though the film didn’t really give her that much to do, I thought the role of Emily suited Nancy. Her best scene was probably the one where she tells Bob that he’s going to have to let his daughter grow up some day. Nancy has always been good at portraying feisty women.

Shallowly, I was kind of glad that the actual romance between Bob, who has no game whatsoever, and Emily was pretty minimal. Emily is entirely too hot for Bob. The dating pool in that town must be pretty darn shallow if the best she could do was Cody and Bob.

Tim and Madison’s romance seems like the sort of thing that probably won’t last much beyond the summer, but then again, maybe they’ll all be together forever and go on to found a veterinary empire.

I think the story would have been more interesting had it focused more on the relationships of the main characters and less on the wacky schemes of Cody and the mayor or the silliness with Madison being the wolf-whisperer.

I mean, sure one of my favorite book series, The Wheel of Time, features a character who can communicate with wolves, but that sort of thing doesn’t play as well in a story that is supposed to be set in the real world.

That said, I think the movie works well enough for what it is. Fluffy, family oriented entertainment.

On a personal note, one of my best friends grew up on a ranch in Montana and I’ve heard her tell many stories about the conflict between native Montanans and outsiders moving in and yuppifying the place, so that did help the story ring a bit more true for me.

It’s also of interest that Nancy took this role not long after she, a native New Yorker and former L.A. resident, married a Texas boy and moved to his ranch near Austin. I suppose she might have been able to relate to the movie’s plot or at least setting on a personal level because of that.