Christopher Walken delivers, in a film with good intentions
It takes only a few moments of songwriter David Baerwald's quaint little score to let you know what you're in for as you head Around the Bend. It's cute music, tiptoeing just around the corner from outright sappiness while gently trying to nudge you into a smile. We hear it all at this point: The characters we're about to meet will be quirky, oh yes; they will have a nasty history with each other, from which old resentments will bubble up at inopportune times; somebody's going to die, and then - via unorthodox but charming tactics - the hatchet's going to be buried.
After a scene or two, a viewer who has ever seen a "troubled family reunion" movie could write the rest of Around the Bend with one brain tied behind his back; the resulting script would probably be funnier than this one, and could hardly employ more clichés.
If that assessment sounds overly harsh and cynical, it should be said that there's a place in the cinema for this sort of movie, which may be the single genre most often approached by filmmakers who are pure of heart. They are all about healing, for Pete's sake - about accepting ourselves and our loved ones and letting the past be - and better that message than the ones that usually litter the multiplex. But good intentions don't equal good art, and Bend's earnestness isn't matched by much inspiration.
As we meet patriarch Michael Caine, grandson Josh Lucas, and precocious tyke Jonah Bobo, we may wonder what the hell's up with Caine's accent; he's an adventure-seeking archaeologist, but he's also allegedly an American. Turns out his paltry screen time didn't merit hiring a voice coach; Caine dies early on, leaving Lucas and Bobo with a last wish: They must travel the country with Lucas' prodigal dad Christopher Walken, performing mysterious chores and sprinkling Grandpa's ashes along the way.
The road trip feels like many you have taken. There's an uptight guy (Lucas) who needs to stop trying to keep tabs on what's happening back home, and there's a cryptic free spirit (Walken) who is haunted by something unexplained but well telegraphed by the filmmakers. There are seething resentments that will fester until the uptight son finally understands his father is human after all.
Good intentions aside, one nice thing I can say about the film is that it offers a wonderful performance by Walken. The actor doesn't seem to be trying at all -his famous tics have been stored away for his next gangster role - and it's a treat to see him relax into this underwritten character. It's not enough to make the film really rewarding, but it at least balances Lucas, whose generic performance here does little to explain why an indie up-and-comer like David Gordon Green would cast him in the upcoming Undertow. Of course, writer/director Jordan Roberts doesn't give Lucas a lot to work with; but in a movie that's all about reconciling with those who came before you, one might hope the younger actor could draw some inspiration from his celluloid dad. •
By John DeFore