|Around the Bend
Over the last 100-plus years of cinema, there have been numerous films that have revolved around
the tenuous bond between fathers and sons. (Examples would range from the generational conflict in
EAST OF EDEN (1955) to the more heartwarming relationships in both KRAMER VS. KRAMER
(1977), and 2003’s superb Russian drama FATHER AND SON.) While not quite in the same class,
AROUND THE BEND, a briskly paced comedy-drama written and directed by Jordan Roberts,
succeeds on several levels. If in retrospect the material seems a bit forced or weak, while you are
watching it, you get swept along.
In a film of this nature, the casting of the main roles is of paramount importance. I always recall
the disbelief generated by the 1989 film FAMILY BUSINESS that had Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman
and Matthew Broderick portraying three generations in a crime family. While on paper the idea of Michael
Caine, Christopher Walken and Josh Lucas appearing as relatives with somewhat shady pasts also may
strike some as a bit ludicrous, yet somehow it works.
Caine appears briefly as the terminally ill paterfamilias Henry Lair, a former archeologist who may
or may not have filched some of the artifacts and sold them on the black market for extra cash. As the
movie opens, he is living with his grandson, the straight-arrow Jason Lair (Josh Lucas) and his
great-grandson Zach (Jonathan Bobo), and a Danish caregiver (Glenne Headly, a terrific performer here
defeated by an underwritten and underdeveloped character).
Tensions run high as Henry’s son Turner (Christopher Walken) magically arrives in time (after
a 30-year absence), seemingly to pay his last respects to the dying patriarch. Jason is none to happy
to see his father, but Zach is astounded, particularly as he’s been told Turner was dead. Turner, who
is harboring a secret, has decided he will only stay a day or two before heading on again. As if on cue,
Henry takes young Zach to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise and spends the night devising
an elaborate scavenger hunt which turns out to be his last wishes.
After his death and funeral, the remaining Lair men set out on a journey to New Mexico to honor
Henry’s desires. Along the way, the generations have the opportunity to bond and to grow. The
buttoned-down Jason becomes a bit freer, while Turner finally manages to make a connection with his
long estranged son. The film ultimately has a big reveal regarding an event in Jason's childhood, and it
is there that Roberts makes the mistake of many first time filmmakers: he telegraphs the "surprise" so that
discerning audience members have already figured it out.
What elevates the somewhat flimsy material is the acting of the four principals. Young Jonathan
Bobo proves to be a find in the somewhat difficult role of Zach. Josh Lucas, who nearly stole
SWEET HOME ALABAMA with his sly Southern charisma doesn’t quite reach the same heights
here, but his work is solid and enjoyable. There’s a reason both Caine and Walken have won Academy
Awards, and both men turn in terrific performances, even if Caine’s role is rather brief. Walken, who
rarely gets a chance to carry a film, proves once again that he is one of the more exciting and fascinating
American actors working today. His eccentricities and tics, which sometimes threaten to overwhelm other
roles, are reined in a bit, so that Walken delivers a wonderful lead turn.
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running time: 85 mins.
|© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.