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"It's a political flier. Says, 'Bush good, Kerry bad.' That settles it for me!"

Around the Bend
(R, 85 min.)

Thursday, October 28, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Around the Bend

Bawl in the family: Around the Bend goes for the heartstring---and sometimes misses

By Anthony Del Valle

There's an acceptable level of competence to writer and first-time director Jordon Robert's four-generation father-son weeper Around the Bend. It's not likely that the story will bore you, although you can see where it's going at every turn. And dynamo actors Christopher Walken and Michael Caine are around to keep us awake. But there's a been-there-done-that quality to the whole enterprise that makes you wonder why this project was ever given the green light.

Retired archaeologist and widower great-grandpa Henry (Caine) isn't long for this world, and is being cared for by his reliable bank employee grandson Jason (Josh Lucas). Reliable men in the movies are always either bank employees or accountants, so when you hear that a lead character has one of those two occupations, you know he's a decent chap who has a lot to learn about enjoying life. Here, Jason plays with his laptop a lot while others around him dance and say crazy, life-affirming things he's not capable of comprehending. He proves his decency not only by being a single parent to 6-year-old son Zach (Jonah Bobo; we assume Jason's wife has left him because bank employees are always so dull), but also his ailing grandfather, whose son disappeared when Jason was a toddler. The trio live with a nurse (Glenne Headly) who's from Denmark and makes them laugh because she has a thick accent and gets her English all mixed up.

It's no surprise when Jason's ex-criminal dad Turner (Walken) shows up unannounced, and that Jason is not outwardly thrilled to see the son of a bitch. Henry is ecstatic, though, and, knowing that death is near, devices a scheme to patch things up between his son and grandson. When Henry kicks the bucket, the three males follow the patriarch's instructions that has them going on a long drive into the desert, spreading his ashes at a score of places, dancing in front of campfires, stopping at Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets so the three will have multiple meals together (KFC must have paid a ton in product-placement fees), and ending up at a destination that may hold the secret for a reconciliation.

How does it end? No, of course I won't tell you, but take a guess. You can probably guess too that the kid--the one who's going to carry the flame into the future--dances in the film's final frame. To be fair, there is a final twist that takes you aback, but it's contrived as well, and not really dealt with.

Everyone is likely to be affected on some level by this material. It gets at the primate in us concerned with the pleasure and pain of family bonds. But the film does little more than push those buttons. It lacks insight. All the script has going for it is its tears.

In his brief role as Henry, Caine proves that after nearly 50 years of screen acting, he still has a few surprises up his sleeve. You can sense both the regret and satisfactions of Henry's life just by looking into Caine's eyes When his prodigal son returns home, you feel some of the heaviness leaving Henry's soul.

Walken remains a mesmerizing film presence, but by now we're so used to his psychotic demeanor that it's hard to take him seriously. And he's defeated by the material. His last big scene in which he reveals his big truth is the sort of stuff we've seen too often on "Saturday Night Live."

Lucas is likable but, like his character, unexciting. Bobo is a cute kid.

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