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Around the Bend  (2004)

 

Starring: Christopher Walken, Josh Lucas, Michael Caine
Director: Jordan Roberts

Rating: R

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures

Release Date: 10.08.04

Review Posted: 10.08.04

Spoilers: None

 

By Sara M. Fetters

 

"Around the Bend" a Trip to Nowhere

 

Josh Lair (Josh Lucas), a mild-mannered bank manager and parent currently separated from his wife while she paints in Nepal, longs for the simple life, one with few quirks and whimsies, but that’s a dream hard to realize. Why? Well, his eccentric archaeologist grandfather Henry (Michael Caine) spends all his waking hours investigating serpentine death rituals, while the Scandinavian nurse (Glenne Headly) charged with watching over him is obsessed with watching schlock horror movies full of evisceration and beheadings. Six-year-old son Zach (Jonah Bobo) is fascinated by both, reveling in stories told by his great-grandfather about primitive cultures and lands far, far away.

 

But when Jason’s estranged father Turner (Christopher Walken) arrives out of nowhere to pay his respects to his dying dad, nothing remotely simple is foreseeable in the Lair family’s future. An ancient secret has separated Turner from Jason, father leaving son in the hands of the grandfather at a young age after a tragic accident. Henry can’t stand for this separation to last any longer, and if a deathbed quest is what it is going to take to reunite the long-lost twosome than a quest is exactly what they are all going to get.

 

Semi-based and inspired by the relationship between writer-director Jordan Roberts and his own absentee father, “Around the Bend” is a peculiar, fanciful adventure wearing its eccentricities on its sleeve. With a cast this strong, the picture is easy to watch, but Roberts can’t help but pile on the goop and schmaltz undercutting any emotional resonance he hopes to achieve with a banal whimsy that grates on the nerves. Pity, for there is a good little movie aching to explode out of this painfully facile wrapper, even if this freshman filmmaker hasn’t a clue how to bring it forth.

 

The cast does what they can. Lucas, best known for playing the redneck love interest of Reese Witherspoon in “Sweet Home Alabama”, is charming in the central role balancing Josh’s multiple sides beautifully. Caine, whose part is essentially nothing more than a cameo, does more with a gentle smirk and twist of the eyelid than most actors do with a Shakespearean sonnet, and he shares a delightfully adolescent chemistry with young Bobo. Only the usually reliable Headly, reuniting with Caine for the first time since their classic pairing in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” fails to connect, her character nothing more than a series of idiotic quirks and tics far below the actress’ talents.

 

It’s Walken show, however, and for all of the film’s faults he almost makes this mess worth seeing all by himself. Turner is a wounded soul, a journeyman haunted by a single moment he can’t turn away from. Not music nor theft nor drugs nor women can cloud his memories of that one fateful day, his only goal in his waning days to get back to the one place he felt the most human; the most a man. Walken is spectacular, walking a fine line between eccentricity, redemption and emotional imprisonment, making Turner a firestorm of activity and one whose final denouement can’t help but hit home like a punch to the stomach. It’s almost as if he’s in a stronger, more fully realized picture than the rest of the cast taking “Around the Bend” into places I’m not sure Roberts intended for it to go.

 

Nothing else matches up to the performance. Roberts’ film moves in fits and starts, traveling to location after location with no sense of time or reality. Characters pop up and then disappear, really for no reason at all, and last minute plot twists intended to move the audience to tears instead left me slapping my head. And while it all looks and sounds great, Mike Grady’s dust-driven cinematography and David Baerwald’s music are wonderful, none of that matters much if you don’t care about any of the characters, and to say I didn’t is certainly an understatement.

 

It seems to me, the biggest lesson Roberts needs to take away from this is that just because people are whimsical or eccentric, that doesn’t necessarily make them interesting. Those traits can only carry a viewer so far before they quickly lose interest, especially if no other remotely human characteristics are forthcoming. And while Walken deservedly steals the show, going “Around the Bend” is tantamount to taking a trip to nowhere.

 

Film Rating: êê  (out of 4)

 

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