Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Henry Poole is Here

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Owen Wilson's quirky sex appeal earned him the loving nickname "the Butterscotch Stallion," whereas his younger brother Luke, while a very solid actor, is, to put it politely, somewhat less charismatic, more like the "Tapioca Pony." So hanging an entire picture around him is a dubious task, particularly when he's playing a miserable, depressive lout.

Henry Poole has recently overpaid for a run-down house in his bland, aging suburban L.A. neighborhood, where he holes up all day on his black leather couch accompanied by his buddies Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Despite his insistence that he "won't be here that long," his super-perky real estate agent Meg (Cheryl Hines) has the outside stucco redone when Henry isn't looking, leaving a curiously shaped watermark that just won't go away, no matter how hard he scrubs. Equally hard to lose are his neighbors, the insistently nosy Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) and comely single mom Dawn, whose cherubic little daughter never speaks but likes to run around taping people's conversations on her giant tape recorder. Since, apparently, every woman in town wants to save him, the poor guy can't even buy booze in peace, since a cute — but frightfully myopic — young supermarket cashier named (ahem) Patience (promising newcomer Rachel Seiferth) persists in offering him chirpy sermons about faith. She even quotes Noam Chomsky on the subject, which, really, is kind of like cheating.

The intrusions only get worse when Esperanza decides that the water stain is actually a heavenly sign, and starts leading bingo ladies, her priest (George Lopez) and hordes of parishioners on daily pilgrimages into Henry's back yard. Henry puts way more energy into repelling these invaders, and rejecting their unshakable beliefs, than he ever does in healing himself — you know, focusing on the emotional and physical ills that plague him. That is until the clouds part, and the plot heads in a direction that's both predictable and unbelievable.

Director Mark Pellington cut his teeth on music videos in the '90s and with such thrillers as 2002's The Mothman Prophecies, but here takes shaky steps into the realm of inspirational melodrama. The end result is likable but hokey. The midfilm shift from moody dark comedy to a basic "love conquers all" theme is fine, it worked for Frank Capra — but Capra usually showed miracles rise from people, not from divine intervention. What's more, when Capra took flights of fancy he never had a lead as earthbound as Luke Wilson.

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