The Wendell Baker Story Review
By Chris Cabin
Oh, the world is one sweet nectarine to the boys in the frat pack. While Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell owned the summer with Wedding Crashers, Owen Wilson was filming You, Me and Dupree with Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon (hit!) and Vince Vaughn was filming The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston (again: hit!). While all this was happening, the group's indelible straight man, Luke Wilson, was busy peddling around his writing/co-directing/acting venture, The Wendell Baker Story. Even though 3 members of the frat pack make appearances in the film, there's something not quite "fratty" about The Wendell Baker Story.
Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) has charm oozing from his pores but can't do much more than make friends with it. He makes fake IDs with his friend, Reyes (Jacob Vargas), for illegal aliens that just jumped the fence. Wendell also has a woman who loves him, but of course, he can't tell her he loves her back. That girl is Doreen (Eva Mendes), who runs into the arms of a grocery store owner (Ferrell) when Wendell gets sent away. When he returns, settled on getting his life straight and winning Doreen back. He is set up to work in an old folk's home, ample for his dreams of owning his own hotel one day. Trouble comes when he uncovers a scheme to fake old people's death and actually send them away to be slaves at a small farm house, owned by the mother of Neil King (Owen Wilson), the head nurse and a supreme sleaze bag. With the help of three wily retirees (Seymour Cassel, Harry Dean Stanton, and Kris Kristofferson), Wendell plans to win back the girl and uncover the scheme.
Good news first: Seymour Cassel and Harry Dean Stanton own this film. These old pros have immeasurable amounts of fun putting the gusto and glee into their characters. In one scene, Cassel tells a girl he could "find your G-spot in 5 seconds" while Stanton simply stares at the girl's friend. Both girls are hooked, and who could argue. Cassel's talks of wanting to get a piece of tail and Stanton's dry replies are worth the 100 minutes the film takes. Give ample credit to Will Ferrell too. As always, Ferrell steals every scene he is in (precious few) with his marked brand of over-the-top physical and emotional reactions.
But the problems are numerous and hard to ignore. First of all, the script rushes most of the plot and doesn't have the structure of any of the frat pack films. The trick to good comedy scripts isn't necessarily jokes but rather a strong skeletal framework story and scenes that allow the actors to improvise and bring out bigger laughs, which the film is in short supply of. You can't help but feel disappointed in Owen Wilson and Eddie Griffin, who plays King's sidekick, who don't seem to really try as hard as the others to make some of the material fly. More than that, the love story, which is set-up in the beginning, goes absolutely nowhere. A tacked-on love story I can handle, but one that is supposedly a major part of the film and is done so poorly is impossible to look away from. Some of these scenes work, some even border on excellent, but the film is so timid and obsessed with making Wendell Baker into some sort of quirky hero (tagline: "Why Not Call Him a Hero?") that it doesn't give enough time to the other characters. I would have much rather watched Cassel and Stanton riff and try to pick up chicks for two hours. But life simply isn't that sweet for me.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 3rd August 2005
Distributed by: ThinkFilm
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 25
Cast & Crew
Starring: Luke Wilson as Wendell Baker, Eva Mendes as Doreen, Jacob Vargas as Reyes Morales, Owen Wilson as Neil King, Kris Kristofferson as L.R. Nasher, Harry Dean Stanton as Skip Summers, Seymour Cassel as Boyd Fullbright, Eddie Griffin as McTeague, Will Ferrell as Dave, Angela Alvarado as Irma, Azura Skye as May, Buck Taylor as Bob Draper, Jo Harvey Allen as Wanda King, Billy Joe Shaver as Reverend Shackelton, Nicole Swahn as Lucy, Heather Kafka as Marianne, Steve Stodghill as Otto Brinker, Richard Jones as Dr. Van Horn, Raymond Gestaut as Sonny Sr., Mark Wallace as Federale Officer