Around the Bend

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/24/05 16:15:27

"Grandpa Walken and KFC... and it works."
3 stars (Just Average)

Imagine, if you will, having Christopher Walken as your grandpa. And Michael Caine as your great-grandpa. At the same time. Your head would pretty much explode, don’tcha think?

For a while, “Around the Bend,” which features just such casting, doesn’t really do much except try way too hard to be quirky. And this is beyond the fact that we’re supposed to believe wacky great-gramps Caine, essentially reprising his “Secondhand Lions” role, is father to granddad Walken, essentially reprising whatever crazy-ass thing Walken usually does on a Tuesday. No, we also get a nurse (Glenne Headly) who speaks with a wacky accent and thrills to splatter films on late night cable. And a kid (Jonah Bobo) who gets away with saying “titties” and “nipple,” because it’s funny. (Well, “nipple” is a funny word, but still.) And something about Caine being fascinated with KFC, of all places.

But then something happens: the movie manages to shift gears. Pushed aside, slowly but surely, are the kooky bits, replaced by typical, but still welcome, reflections on father-son relationships. The movie’s second half rescues the first by finally figuring out what it is the movie wants to say and how it wants to say it.

The story proper kicks off when Turner Lair (Walken), a convict and drug addict, returns to see his son Jason (Josh Lucas) after decades of absence. (“You’re not dead any more,” says grandkid Zach, trying to understand how this ghost can return to their lives.) It’s the moment for which Henry (Caine) seems to have been waiting; that night, he dies. But not before leaving them with a detailed scavenger hunt/treasure map-ish mission, a forced roap trip during which they must spread Henry’s ashes and, of course, learn a little about each other.

It’s the cast that carries this picture. Walken infuses so much energy into the role that each scene makes us want to learn just a little more. His Turner is the typical Walken character - loony, mysterious, fun, dangerous, all with a pinch of deeper sadness. Lucas holds his own as the bitter, abandoned son willing to forgive, but not yet ready. It’s a fine performance, albeit one overshadowed by Walken’s presence. (Caine, meanwhile, is nice but not too memorable; Bobo makes a fine first go, better than most of your usual child actors; Headley is serviceable but thankfully forgettable in a role that’s utterly pointless.)

The film is a light character study, not quite the deep drama or outrageous comedy it tries to be, but an engaging little story nonetheless. Writer/director Jordan Roberts makes a decent film debut, working with a project that gradually improves as it progresses. And while the script could’ve improved with another draft to iron out all the kinks, it still works as is. If you can make it past the shaky beginning, you’ll be rewarded with a stirring finale. It’s not exactly an impressive debut, but it’s a workable one.

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