Few subjects are as overwrought or subject to melodrama as the dysfunctional family. It emerges as fodder for emotionally impotent television soap operas and sitcoms, and films rarely address the topic well either. This is territory to tread lightly, if at all.
In Around the Bend, patriarch Henry Lair (Michael Caine) sits down for a meal of KFC, writes out a bizarre will on a series of Post-it notes, wraps them in several carryout bags and then conveniently dies. The will stipulates that his wayward son Turner (Christopher Walken) scatter his ashes at designated locations along the way on a Lair family road trip to Albuquerque. Over the course of six days, Turner, with son Jason (Josh Lucas) and 7-year-old grandson Zach (Jonah Bonobo), must dine once a day at KFC and concede to other such eccentric requests. Songs by Warren Zevon and Leon Russell are used on the sound track during critical scenes, lest we forget the “manhood is hell” theme of the film.
Throughout this ritual, Turner and Jason are to make amends and set an example for Zach. It’s a sweet and well-meaning story, but generally every bit as contrived as it sounds. The film’s nadir is the scene where the three road-weary Lairs stand on the side of a road, peeing together. They finish in order, from oldest to youngest, on cue. It belongs in a Phil Collins video. The kid’s way too cute and so is just about every other damn thing here, except Walken, who’s more affecting than in any of his recent work. He plays a battered soul, a junkie, thief and deadbeat father. Walken’s eyes reflect guilt and pain in every one of his scenes.
While the film is more than a few degrees removed from fairy-tale reality, it too often dips into that same well of prefab emotion, at the cost of its own backbone. Around the Bend is reminiscent of that creepy old drunk who refuses to stop consoling you at the bar when you’re not particularly depressed. It’s the kind of movie that wallows permanently in the characters’ superficial idiosyncrasies, and the director’s hyper-sentimentalized obsession with male bonding. An ounce of such mawkishness goes a long way, and Around the Bend offers at least a greasy pound. Director Jordan Robert’s debut oozes more sap than a freshly cut Christmas tree, and were it not for an incredible turn by Walken, it’d be best left forgotten.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple. Rd., Bloomfield Hills). Call 248-263-2111.
Gene Gregorits writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].