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Around the Bend

For all the men out there feeling left out after going to numerous chick flicks, Around the Bend is the right movie to see. This is the male equivalent of a three-hanky film, with lots of emotional male bonding that isn't too sissy. The story is pretty predictable, but the acting and emotion, particularly from Christopher Walken, is enough to tilt the film towards watchable. For the past decade, Walken (The Stepford Wives, Envy), who is a good actor, has coasted by on roles that gently mock his oddball persona. In other words, he typically plays an exaggerated version of himself. It was funny a few times, but after the twentieth or so, it got a little old. It is nice to see him doing something different, especially when he is able to invest as much as he does here.

Walken plays Turner Lair, the absent father of Jason (Josh Lucas, Wonderland, Secondhand Lions), who lives with his son Zach (Jonas Bobo, The Best Thief in the World), and his grandfather Henry (Michael Caine, The Statement, Secondhand Lions). Turner left the family years ago after a car accident killed Jason's mother and left Jason with a limp in one leg. Henry, who used to be an archaeologist, is frail and dying, and Turner shows up one day to pay his respects. The one aspect of Around the Bend that does get a little old is writer/director Jordan Roberts' penchant for trying to make things as odd as possible. Henry's Danish nurse (Glenne Headly, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Bartleby) loves horror movies. And to celebrate Turner's return, Henry takes them out to a fancy meal at KFC.

Henry soon dies, and in lieu of a will, leaves a series of maps and notes for the remaining Lairs to decipher. He wants them to scatter his ashes on a trip across the Southwest, stopping at various KFCs along the way. There are so many KFCs (that's Kentucky FRIED Chicken) that at times Around the Bend plays like an extended advertisement. The true reason for the trip is much more obvious to everybody except the characters; reconciliation between Turner and Lair. The script makes it clear that Turner spent time in jail, but Roberts is coy about the exact crime and why Turner left for good. As they roll along in an old VW van, Turner and Jason are forced to confront each other and get to know each other as father and son.

Aside from Turner and possibly Jason, everybody else is nearly a caricature. Henry is a rascally weird old coot. Zach is a cute kid. The people they meet along the way are no different. But again, it is Walken's performance, and pretty much is performance only, that makes it worth it to seek out this film. Turner is sad, yet refuses to open up as to why he feels this way. He is going on the journey out of respect for his father, not because he wants to know his son, although this eventually changes. Roberts does add another wrinkle at the end that is very distasteful only because it seems to try too hard to inject more emotion into an already clogged script. However, he is able to juggle the pathos and quirky humor decently well for most of the film.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 25 minutes, Rated R for language.

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