Around The Bend Movie Review

The kind of thing that would be playing nonstop if there were a Lifetime Network for Men, Around the Bend is a getting back in touch with your family drama that would be mawkishly entertaining if it weren't so utterly hackneyed and false. Ostensibly a labor of love for first-time writer/director Jordan Roberts, the film gives us four generations of men stuffed together in one slovenly kept house - with a foreign blonde off to the sidelines to provide some tasteful eye candy - who have to come to grips with their atrophied relationships when the patriarch kicks the bucket.

Films of this nature usually need a gruff, salt-of-the-earth type to provide hard-earned wisdom, and here it's the Lair family's elder statesman, Henry (Michael Caine), an ailing archaeologist who despairs at how little fun that his grandson, Jason (Josh Lucas) is letting his own boy, Zach (Jonah Bobo), have in life. Jason is an uptight banker type who's basically raising Zach alone after his wife absconded to Nepal (women, right?), leaving the business of taking care of Henry to the live-in Danish nurse, Katrina (Glenne Headly). On the eve of Henry's impending death - which he's able to foretell with preternatural accuracy - the bombshell dropped in their laps is the arrival of the family's missing link, Turner (Christopher Walken), Henry's son and Jason's father (never mind that Walken is only 10 years younger than Caine and looks even closer to him in age), who wants to make up for his wasted decades of crime, addiction and familial neglect.

Although bottling all these men up in the rather gloomy Lair lair might have had some dramatic potential, Roberts unfortunately felt the need to open things up and send the boys on a roadtrip across the southwest. After Henry dies - at a KFC, which his character is morbidly obsessed with, and which has so much product placement here that they could have easily financed the whole film - his will stipulates a long and complex set of tasks that his boys must perform before finally spreading his ashes at a place of symbolic importance. So the Lairs set off in Turner's banged-up VW bus and we can all be assured that moments of wackiness and personal insight will ensue.

Even with such a weak script as Roberts has concocted for Around the Bend, compensation could have been easily provided by the strangely high-octane cast on display, and unsurprisingly, Walken provides a good deal of what is watchable here. It's an unusually subdued and soulful performance from Walken, displaying little of his usual spitfire brio and instead inhabiting a beaten-down, mournful man who has to face up to a life of irresponsibility. Lucas and Caine fare less well, Lucas because his character is written as such a drip that there's little that such a square-jawed actor like himself can do with it, and Caine sabotages a decent enough performance by making a true hash of his accent, a sort of Cockney/Southern melange that's distractingly bad.

In trying to make what is an essentially sad story more palatable with the road trip and some ill-timed moments of questionable comic relief, the filmmakers seem to lose track of the story's main thrust. By the film's non-conclusion, it's apparent that some sort of closure has been achieved, but it's a rickety construction indeed, leaving one wondering what the point of it was - besides all the chicken business.

15 minutes of deleted scenes, a commentary track, and the traditional making-of featurette round out the DVD.

And looking for change.


Around The Bend Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: R, 2004


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