Starring Michael Caine, Christopher Walken, and Josh Lucas. Rated PG.
Around the Bend, the directorial debut of Jordan Roberts (who also wrote the screenplay), is a touchy-feely road-trip movie about four generations of a dysfunctional family travelling into the desert, literally and metaphorically, unearthing family secrets and lies along the way. Sons attempt to forgive the sins of their fathers and in so doing gain a greater understanding of themselves. At least that's the plan. Unfortunately, Roberts's script ends up mired in its own clichés, becoming nothing more than a hackneyed TV movie of the week.
Over a longish 85 minutes, the male strain of the Lair family makes good on the final wishes of recently deceased great-grandfather Henry, played masterfully by Michael Caine with a curiously intermittent southern accent that at times sounds more like South London. Henry dies in the first reel, however, making Caine's role seem suspiciously like a trick to get us into the theatre.
Henry's will demands that the three surviving generations embark on a road trip from L.A. to Albuquerque to scatter portions of his ashes and dine at KFC restaurants at various stops along the way. This last detail, probably meant to inject an air of eccentric whimsy to the film, ends up feeling like a rather overt product placement.
Christopher Walken brings much-needed life to the role of Henry's junkie-thief son Turner but does nothing here that elaborates on his earlier work. In fact, when Walken hoofs it up around a campfire, it's as if the director had seen him in Fatboy Slim's "Weapon Of Choice" video and wanted some of that in his film. Turner's banker son Jason is played generically by up-and-comer Josh Lucas, a good-looking actor in the Paul Newman mould who has yet to find his own Harper or Cool Hand Luke.
Much of the emotional impact of the film is inspired by David Baerwald's original score and by the songs of masters like Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson, and Leon Russell.
Around the Bend clearly aspires to a moving and quirky slice of life but fails on every turn. What lies around the bend promises to be a voyage into the heart of one family's emotional darkness, an Apocalypse Now for the sensitive male. But instead of meeting Colonel Kurtz, we find only the Colonel and a half-eaten bucket of cinematic clichés.