Family Drama Light
|Starring:||Christopher Walken, Josh Lucas, Michael Caine|
It’s never a good sign when less than 24 hours after seeing a film, most of its details are already hazy in your mind. Jordan Roberts’ “Around the Bend” fits that description — easily one of the more forgettable movies I’ve seen recently. The film has a sentimental tone, but its director seems very concerned about falling into overtly sappy territory, and thus attempts to “gritty” up the atmosphere by forcing in some profanity here and there. What results is a confused, tedious movie…and somehow it stars Christopher Walken and Michael Caine.
Josh Lucas stars as Jason Lair, a man who is dealing with a recent divorce, and has been left to care not only for his son, Zach (Jonah Bobo), but also for his ailing grandfather, Henry (Caine). The other member of the household is Katrina (Glenne Headly), a young live-in nurse from Denmark, who too tends to Henry. As we’re getting to know the family, a bomb drops when Turner (Walken), Henry’s son and Jason’s father, arrives at the home. Jason hasn’t seen his father, an ex-convict, since he was a child.
It turns out that the timing of Turner’s return is no accident. Shortly after the man’s arrival, Henry passes away, but leaves behind something of a scavenger hunt for his son, grandson and great grandson to complete. And if the surviving Lairs do not carry out Henry’s final wishes, they will not be the beneficiaries of his possessions. Henry’s strategically orchestrated journey takes Turner, Jason and Zach from Los Angeles to Albuquerque in hopes that the excursion will help his family better understand one another. The trip culminates with a dark secret being exposed.
When “Around the Bend” ended, I was left to scratch my head and wonder why this story was worthy of being a feature film. Its tone is hopelessly muddled — Roberts is too smart to make a traditional “feel good” movie, but you wish he would occasionally cave in to his more obvious instincts. Because the director skirts around emotionally charged scenes, the movie just lacks a personality. It hints at something richer, but never delivers on its promise.
While all of the acting is fine, the players don’t share much chemistry. Lucas and Walken are, of course, supposed to have an awkward relationship, but they appear to be on completely different pages. And Lucas’ Jason Lair, who serves as the film’s central figure, is too bland to warrant being the focal point of any movie. He’s a completely reactive character and is ultimately just a faceless middle-of-the-road nice guy. Zach is used as the token cute kid, and young Jonah Bobo isn’t asked to do much in the way of acting. Michael Caine and Christopher Walken display their patented excellence, but can’t do much to save the film.
“Around the Bend” apparently is a partially autobiographical tale, and maybe because of that, writer/director Roberts was too emotionally guarded when committing the script to film. This movie needed the directorial touch of someone who wasn’t afraid to explore the characters and situations in all of their naked honesty (even if that meant tossing in a tear-jerking scene or two), but instead conservatively flutters around on autopilot. Given what this film’s intentions clearly are, it misses the mark by a surprisingly wide margin.