Fresh Horses, on paper, would have seemed to have been a perfect hit script. You had Molly Ringwald, with her porcelain skin and delicately curly red-blonde hair. You had Andrew McCarthy with his boyish charm but also the male strength beginning to come through. You had a romantic triangle. You had the "class divide". The Brat Pack was loved by millions. How could this fail?
The problem really does seem to come down to the actors themselves. There's very little "energy" at all to this story which is supposedly about passion overcoming logic. Molly is a 16 yr old girl in rural Kentucky. When her stepfather begins fondling her, and her mother does little to help, Molly tries for the only escape she can find - marrying the older bad-man-in-town, Viggo Mortensen. She claims she never slept with Viggo - only used him for escape. Then Viggo's father began fondling her, and now she wants out of this house as well.
To get momentary relief from her homelife, she hangs out at a friend's home, which is a 24 hour party. Here she runs into Andrew. Andrew is a very serious student who has just gotten engaged to his high-class, wealthy girlfriend. The girlfriend rambles on and on about china patterns, having children and living the perfect life. Andrew goes with the flow until he sees Molly - and is instantly in lust. Molly leads him to believe she's 20, single, and interested in him. It takes maybe 3 days before he's sleeping with her. To his credit, he does tell his fiancee promptly, and breaks off the engagement.
You'd think everything was wonderful now, right? However, Andrew learns from friends about Molly's lies. He decides to keep seeing her anyway. However, he doesn't want to introduce her to his family, and has no intention of marrying her. He says he loves her - but his feelings seem to be more related to sex. At one point he even gives her a wad of cash to buy her off.
There's a telling scene near the end when Andrew thinks Molly has been publicly stripped by her husband. Andrew storms off to their house to have a talk with Viggo. Andrew is deliberately rude - laughing at Viggo's artwork and putting him down. But it's Viggo who is the calm one here. When Molly shows up, Viggo points out that Molly's been doing all this lying and scheming so that Andrew would be a Knight in Shining Armor and ride off with her. He asks Andrew - if you're saying I'm not good enough for her - it seems that you think you're too good for her, right? Andrew finds himself agreeing - that he won't take on Molly himself. He wants to get Molly away from Viggo, but then is going to abandon her to her own means. How could he figure that Molly would be better off with nobody at all, vs with Viggo?
Fast forward to a year later, and Molly has in fact found herself a "wealthy college boy" to take care of her and is taking classes again. She's happy, and Andrew is sad. I suppose you have to give them credit for a not-typical Hollywood ending to the story.
The landscapes are often gorgeous, and the various details of high class, low class, city, country are all played nicely against each other. So the problem really comes down to the main actors. Molly and Andrew maybe have gotten too used to playing ensemble roles where each person just has to be a stereotype without a lot of depth. You really get a sense of shallowness when you're watching this movie. Andrew has an entire life including a long-term romance, that he's set in. In just 3 days he's thrown it all away for Molly - but you never get any real sense that he cares about her. Molly was supposedly taking some quite desperate steps to find safety in her life - including seducing and lying to Andrew in order to convince him to rescue her - but she never seems to care much either.
Intriguingly, only 2 people really seem to have depth in this movie. One is Ben Stiller, Andrew's best friend. It's ironic because Ben's character IS shallow and cares more for himself than for those around him. Even so, Ben really seems authentic as someone who isn't used to having to worry about others - but who really does try his best, many times, to get Andrew to wake up to reality. The other is Viggo Mortensen. You only glimpse Viggo once until the end of the movie - he's just referred to as a "rough guy" who has done many bad things. When you actually encounter Viggo (after Andrew has in essence broken into his house to confront him) you're prepared for the worst. However, Viggo is very patient, very well spoken, and quite intelligent in his commentary. He doesn't thrash Andrew for sleeping with his wife. Instead, he lays out the situation and makes both Andrew and Molly face their failings. Molly deliberately lied and used Andrew as a tool of getting a better life. Andrew, for his part, knew he'd never actually rescue Molly but led her on repeatedly to have time with her.
Some have said this is the worst movie ever. Many sections of it can be very painful to watch. However, I do find glimmers of meaning - especially in the ending discussion with Viggo. Even there, though, you would think this would be a moment of great soul searching for Andrew and Molly. Instead, both seem to think, "Yeah, I guess that's true. Oh well, see ya." I don't mind gloomy movies at all - in fact I really appreciate them sometimes. However, if a movie has no depth of character or quality acting, it just makes the whole experience fall flat.