The film was written and directed by Hugh Wilson and stars Tom Berenger as a stereotypical good-guy cowboy, Rex O'Herlihan, who is drawn out of a black-and-white film and transferred into a more self-aware setting. Though supposedly Wilson received his inspiration from working at CBS Studio Center, the former Republic Pictures backlot, the movie was filmed in Spain.
Patrick Wayne, son of Western icon John Wayne, co-stars, along with Andy Griffith, Fernando Rey, G.W. Bailey, Marilu Henner and Sela Ward.
Henner was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Supporting Actress.
The concept of the movie is explained in a voiceover intro by G. W. Bailey, who wonders what it would be like if one of the 1930s/1940s Rex O'Herlihan movies were to be made today. At that point, in a scene reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, the cinematography shifts from black & white to color and the soundtrack changes from mono to surround sound.
As a consequence of this paradigm shift, Rex O'Herlihan (Berenger), a "singing cowboy," is the only character aware of the plot outline. He explains that he "knows the future" inasmuch as "these Western towns are all the same" and that it's his "karma" to "ride into a town, help the good guys, who are usually poor for some reason, against the bad guys, who are usually rich for some reason, and ride out again." Rex's knowledge is also connected to the unspecified "root" vegetables he digs up and eats.
On his high-stepping horse Wildfire, Rex rides into the town of Oakwood Estates, walks into a saloon and meets Peter, the Town Drunk (Bailey). In exchange for a free drink, Peter explains the background: the town, and especially the sheep herders ("nice enough, but they smell God-awful"), are being terrorized by the cattle ranchers, headed by Colonel Ticonderoga (Andy Griffith). Also there is Miss Tracy (Marilu Henner), the traditional Prostitute with a Heart of Gold. A local sheriff is "a corrupt old coward who takes his orders from the Colonel."
Blackie, the foreman at Rancho Ticonderoga, swaggers into the bar with two of his henchmen and shoots one of the sheep herders. Miss Tracy objects, hot words are exchanged, and Blackie is accidentally shot in the back by his henchmen. Rex then shoots the guns out of their hands.
Peter exchanges his drunk suit for a sidekick outfit, catches up with Rex, and is reluctantly accepted. (Rex has sworn off sidekicks as they keep dying.) At the singing cowboy's campsite, Peter finds not one but two women there eager to get to know Rex a little better, Miss Tracy and the Colonel's daughter (Sela Ward).
The Colonel goes to the boss of the railroad men (Fernando Rey) – who wear dusters and have theme music like characters in spaghetti westerns – for help. "We should stick together. Look what we have in common: we're both rich, we're both power-mad, and we're both Colonels — that's got to count for something!"
Rex outwits the Bad Guys because he knows their every move before they do. But then the Colonels import "Wrangler" Bob Barber (Patrick Wayne), apparently another Good Guy. Bob psychs out Rex in their first meeting by attacking Rex's claim to be the "most good Good Guy" and pointing out that a Good Guy has to be "a confident heterosexual." "I thought it was just a heterosexual", Rex objects. "No, it's a confident heterosexual," responds Bob.
Rex backs down from the shootout. On his way out of town, while preparing to change roles to that of a sidekick, Rex explains to Peter that he rides into town, kisses the girls and rides out again. "That's all: I just kiss 'em. I mean, this is the 1880s. You gotta date and date and date and date and sometimes marry 'em before they, you know ..."
Bob reports that Rex is finished as a Good Guy. Nevertheless, the Colonels, over Bob's objection, arrange for Peter to be bushwhacked. This rouses Rex to round up the sheep herders and face down Bob and the rancher/railroad combine. Bob is revealed as not a Good Guy at all because, after all, "I'm a lawyer!" Rex shoots him.
Colonel Ticonderoga makes the peace. He apologizes to Rex and throws a party at Rancho Ticonderoga, after which Rex and Peter (who survived because Rex had him wear a bulletproof vest) ride off together into the sunset.Tom Berenger as Rex O'Herlihan
G.W. Bailey as Peter
Andy Griffith as Colonel Ticonderoga
Fernando Rey as the Other Colonel
Sela Ward as the Colonel's Daughter
Marilu Henner as Tracy
Patrick Wayne as Bob Barber
Rustlers' Rhapsody received negative reviews from critics, with many saying it paled in comparison to Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. It currently holds an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews.