Once more around the bend

Around the BendWarner IndependentPicturesWritten and directed byJordan RobertsStarring ChristopherWalken, Josh Lucas andMichael CaineRated R, 85 minutesOpened in theaters Nov. 5Three out of five starsJudd NielsenStaff WriterIn the realm of movies, thereare a few truisms. One suchtruism is that any time ChristopherWalken shows up onscreen, it’s a treat. As an actor,Walken has the talent to injecta dull movie with life and thepeerless ability to steal thelimelight from other actors,even in small, seemingly inconsequentialroles.In Around the Bend, Walkenonce again shines with a powerfuland moving performancethat circumnavigates the rangeof different emotions.Unfortunately, the Bend’sstory itself isn’t enough tocarry the movie. Instead, it’sthe acting that pulls us to theconclusion, eager to see thefeats of the thespians ratherthan being concerned with thecharacters or their story.The movie begins with theintroduction of Henry Lair(Michael Caine), the crotchetyyet endearing patriarch ofa family of men. Henry, a formerarcheologist, lives withhis grown grandson Jason(Josh Lucas) and Zach, Jason’sadventurous son played by theyoung Jonah Bobo.Henry’s live-in nurse Katrina(Glenne Headly) roundsout the household. Henryhas one of those undiscloseddeadly illnesses thatfilmmakers seem all too eagerto employ just for the sake ofbeing vague, and he is workingon outlandish funeral plans(“are we really going to mummifyPapa Henry?”).One day, out of the blue,Turner (Walken), the missinglink in the living Lair genealogy,shows up. Turner returns aftera 30-year absence, not havingseen his son, Jason, since hewas a toddler. The sudden reunionbrings considerable tensionto the household. Pleasedto have the whole family backtogether, Henry takes them todinner and plans one last gloriousroad trip with the gang.But, that is not to happen.Henry’s progeny thinkthey have better things to do.Henry takes Zach to plan thejourney at the local KentuckyFried Chicken. Once the plansare complete, Henry passesaway. The great-grandfather’sfinal wishes and instructionsare given to his boys in a scavengerhunt-esque sort of matter,leaving clues and destinationsbunched up in crumpledKentucky Fried Chicken bags,each one to be opened at a differentKFC location.As the three remaining Lairstravel through the deserts ofthe Southwest that Henry frequentedon his archeologicaldigs, the backstory betweenTurner and Jason begins tounfold.Lucas does a fine job as thewavering-in-emotion Jason,trying to reconcile his bitterfeelings toward his father’slong, unexplained absence.Bobo, as the sharp and probingZach, is equally great, showingan impressive range of depthand comedy for such a youngactor.But it is Walken who,once again, steals theshow.His performance isequally energetic andempathetic-he can besubtly moving in onescene and then the life ofthe party the next (seeingWalken boogie again,as he did in Fatboy Slim’s”Weapon of Choice” musicvideo, is a delight).But the further thestory goes, the less interestedwe are in discoveringthe small mysteriesof the film’s characters.This is particular in therelationship betweenTurner and Jason. Weknow there was a momentof serious conflictthat sent Turner runningfrom his family 30 yearsearlier, but what thatmoment is seems unimportantbecause Turner’sshortcomings havealready been revealed.There are moments ofpoignancy and comedyin Around the Bend, butthe story fades to thebackground and the focusturns to the actorsthemselves.All in all, Around theBend is worth the mileagebecause of the allaroundstellar performances(Caine, as usual,is a delight, though hisaccent wavers a bit), butthe themes of prodigalredemption and familybonding are lackingin force, causing littleemotional payoff in [email protected]