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Around the Bend (2004)
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Review Date: September 02, 2004
Director: Jordan Roberts
Writer: Jordan Roberts
Producers: Elliot Lewitt, Julie Kirkham
Actors:
Christopher Walken
Josh Lucas
Michael Caine
Plot:
A father who left his son with his own pops about 30 years earlier, returns to visit both the son and his dad, when the latter is closing in on his fateful reunion with the Grim Reaper. After passing away, the three remaining generations of boys from the family must follow the dying man's wishes by cremating him and then following his carefully constructed maps that lead to specific spots around the United States, where they must scatter his ashes. The estranged father, his son and his son hop into an old beat-up van and embark upon the mission together. Walken's brilliant hair ensues.
Critique:
This is a "small" movie. It doesn't last too long, it doesn't try to say too much, it doesn't feature many memorable sequences, slices of dialogue or tit shots (don't ask), but it does dramatically engage for its runtime, offer an interesting glimpse into the dynamic that might exist between four generations of contemporary men and most strikingly for me, features a stand-out performance by Christopher Walken, who deserves to be recognized at a couple of award ceremonies at the end of this year, playing a dad who simply messed up, early on in life (Walken won the "Best Actor" award for his role in this film at this year's Montreal Film Festival). For anyone who's complained that Walken might have been "punching the clock" in some of his roles over the past few years, check out this film and be reminded of the power that exists in the Walken. Truly understated, Walken turns out to be the central figure in this story, which he helps move along with his wide-eyed stare, his disappointed-in-himself look and his uncanny ability to make me feel sorry for him as a "dead-beat dad", with the tears in his eyes, the mourning in his soul and the broken sections of his heart. Powerful stuff. But before I make this film sound like a dead-ass downer, be aware that it's actually quite light overall, with only its final 5-10 minutes really pouring on the waterworks.

The story, on its own, doesn't truly amaze or surprise, with a pretty obvious route to travel, but the performances and chemistry between the leads works, particularly the stuff with Michael Caine, who also offers up a nice rendition of a quirky old man with an unhealthy obsession with KFC (by the way, this film actually beats HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE in terms of movies that prominently feature fast-food restaurants in their story...wow, you'd think they financed the picture!) That said, I won't pretend that some of this didn't feel a little "TV movie of the week" for me, particularly when the jaunty music would kick in to remind us that things were meant to be "happy" in one scene or a montage would feature a song with lyrics that were too obviously meant to correlate with that sequence (cheesy). But overall, I felt good watching this movie, appreciated its focus on the importance of family, particularly in times of grief and death, and liked its characters, all of whom I was genuinely interested in getting to know better. Josh Lucas is also a great-looking man, and even though he didn't completely bowl me over here, he did prove to be a decent sounding board for Walken and his more layered character. This is a good, solid drama with an intriguing look at the effects of male estrangement on the rest of the boys in the clan, but it doesn't necessarily re-invent the wheel, despite a nice camaraderie between the actors and a superb performance by Walken.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian
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