A review of “Around the Bend” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for strong profanity

Run Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

 

 

An appealing performance by underrated hunk Josh Lucas can’t save this well-meaning indie debut (directed by Jordan Roberts) from a mawkish TV-movie of the week glow.

Lucas is Jason Lair, one of four generations of Lair males who pepper the landscape of this precocious coming-of-age weeper.  Jason’s is a home of quirks – an aging grandfather (Michael Caine as Henry) with adventure on the brain, a zany Danish nurse who gives grandpa palpitations, and a precocious son (Jonah Bobo as Zach) who’s taking it all in.

When absentee dad Turner (Christopher Walken) lands on Jason’s doorstep, it’s a too-many-cooks-spoil-the-broth situation.  Henry’s dying wish is to reunite his errant son and beloved grandson, but his methods are highly unconventional: a note stipulating that in order for Zach to receive his inheritance the surviving Lair men must follow a crudely constructed treasure map detailing a cross-country jaunt to a relentless series of KFC restaurants.

 The chicken is finger-lickin’ good but the vibe is strained.  As the boys come to terms with loads of dirty laundry a family cohesion builds. Cheap laughs crowd thick sentiment and the inevitable male-bonding that’s along for the ride.

Bend tries hard to be lovable, altogether too hard.  Its earnest script, cute kid close-ups, and togetherness sensibility (“A family carries each other; I carried you, you carried me, we have to carry him”) is alternately touching and grating.

A poignant performance by Lucas embodies resentment and forgiveness, Caine’s turn is short but sweet, and Walken doesn’t miss a beat in his ongoing pursuit of quintessential weirdness.

Director Roberts has a lot to learn about side-stepping the Hallmark card mentality and letting natural emotions flow. Thumb sideways for the effort.