Around The Bend

2004, Movie, R, 85 mins

Review

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An awkward amalgam of road movie, buddy comedy and melodramatic conventions, first-time writer-director Jordan Roberts' male weepie ricochets between affecting scenes and insufferably maudlin ones. Uptight, low-level banker Jason (Josh Lucas) shares a rundown Los Angeles apartment with his rapidly declining grandfather, archeologist Henry Lair (Michael Caine), his six-year-old son, Zach (Jonah Bobo), and Henry's Danish nurse, Katrina (Glenne Headly). Henry's only remaining interest is planning his own funeral service, something elaborate and unusual that will bring his "tribe" together. So when the tribe's missing member — Josh's estranged father, ex-junkie jailbird Turner (Christopher Walken) — appears unexpectedly at the door, the eccentric Henry takes it as a sign that it's time to go. He walks little Zach over to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, writes his burial requests on various Post-It notes and scraps of maps that he stuffs into ever-smaller brown-paper KFC bags, like some macabre matryoshka doll, confides a secret to his grandson, then lays down his head and dies. Henry's first stipulation is that he and his dog should be cremated together, which strikes Josh as profoundly creepy — the dog isn't dead. But Henry's mystical sense of appropriateness is on target, and his faithful pooch dies the following day. After the cremation, Henry wants Turner, Josh and Zack to pile into Henry's battered old VW bus and take a magical mystery tour, leaving ashes at each stop until there's nothing left. Before opening each new set of brown-bagged directions dictating the next leg of the trip, Turner (a vegetarian), Josh (who hates chicken) and Zack must eat at a designated KFC restaurant, a narrative device that rivals HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (2004) for the most shameless piece of product worship in movie history. While Walken and Lucas share some hauntingly powerful moments, little Bobo is cloying, Caine's accent wanders and Walken is visibly too old to be his son. Rooted in Roberts' own life and developed over the course of 32 drafts, this project mutated from a father-daughter saga to a tale of intergenerational male bonding without losing its rough edges, starting with the obvious archeological metaphor — if we miss the implication that Henry can't let sleeping dogs lie, the word "DIG" is scrawled on the side of his van — and the fact that sweetly saucy Katrina belongs in a different movie. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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