A review of “Secondhand Lions” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: **

Rating: PG for mildly adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes



With the pedigree of Best Actor and Supporting Actor Oscar winners, an Oscar nominee, and big-budget production values, one would guess that this sentimental family comedy would be a slam dunk.  Guess again.

Michael Caine and Robert Duvall are Garth and Hub, a pair of surly, eccentric brothers living in the Texas boonies with nothing but shotguns for company.  When their flighty niece Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) drops her “weenie” fourteen-year old son (Haley Joel Osment as Walter) on their doorstep for the summer, the cranky duo is skeptical at best.

In true PG-fashion, the thaw is quick-as-a-wink and saccharine-sweet. Witness male bonding in the form of vegetable gardening, skeet shooting, and the delightfully improbable delivery of a big game sport lion.  Seems the old boys have a tidy sum of cash tucked away, and friends and relatives from far and wide are venturing forth for a little family-bonding of their own.

In between aw-shucks moments, Garth and Hub spin fantastic yarns (vividly re-enacted on screen) of the good old days, when the brothers cut a swath through Northern Africa as bons vivants and legionnaires.  Hub met and married a beautiful princess named Jasmine, who was the object of desire for a fabulously wealthy sheik. Blah, blah, blah.  Walter, an insecure adolescent who needs something to believe in, eats up the fabled tales that fill him with the warmth of wonder and adventure.

“Lions” could have been a contender. Its look is lush and its talent pool vast. Big snaps for taking a stab at family entertainment that isn’t animated or based on freakish animal behavior. With Caine and Duvall at the helm the respect quotient is high, the expectations higher.

 Act One sets the stage for an intriguing, down-home laugher awash in droll dirty laundry.  But ridiculous scripting and a geeky, grating performance by the needy, too-old-for-this-role Osment sets the teeth on edge.  Act Two dissolves the project into a weepy clinker with a preposterous climax that put me perilously close to a severe case of sugar shock.