Cinema Signal:

Silent Screams:
The Search for a Missing Father, Home, and Identity

. "Around the Bend"

With all the earmarks of a personal story, this arthouse film brings together a high-voltage cast in a low-wattage, off-beat collision of generations that result in the exposure of suppressed memories.

At the top of the pyramid of the Lair family is Henry (Michael Caine) a retired archaeologist who, by virtue of age and declining health, has reason to be irascible and demanding. Without him, there might not be anybody in the stultifying L.A. duplex to roil it up and give it some life.

His grandson Jason (Josh Lucas), who walks with a limp, and 6-year old great grandson Zach (Jonah Bobo) are just too comfortable with their basic life together to go looking for trouble or excitement. It's all Jason can do to keep his grandfather contained within some kind of recognizable rationality and not so fixed on his impending death. No, it's grandpa that insists on going out, like to the local Colonel Sanders, when a celebration or something momentous is in order.

The first of these occurs when his son Turner (Christopher Walken) shows up after an absence of 25 or so years. Bring out the buckets of KFC, the family circle is complete! But Turner hasn't shown up to bring peace and stability to the modest household. As dysfunctional and woman deprived as it was (Jason's wife is off in Nepal to paint, the Danish nurse (Glenne Headly) is the only skirt in sight), this prodigal bone in the stew is going to add some bitterness to the brew.

The second cause for a trip to the Colonel is for grandpa to put together the complex will he's drawn up. And, sure enough, when he kicks over, Turner and Jason have to take to the road to satisfy its terms. These include a carefully plotted route taking them into New Mexico and a journey of mutual discovery, some adjustment, and an abundance of disagreement. But, that's not the problem.

Turner, it turns out, has a little family secret to reveal to his son Jason, one which will answer his almost life-long question about why his father ran off in the first place. But the answer is not going to be easy to take, and will bring the question of forgiveness into the picture big time. But, it's a little late in the telling for a satisfactory dramatic effect.

Lucas has a chance here to show his credentials as a sensitive actor with a fine balance of warmth and fallibility. Walken always puts me on edge because of his tendency to go beyond the pale of normality in order to stand out. While that's not too much in evidence here, his portrayal is tinged with his patented version of an enigmatic, offbeat character. Caine is all right but one is glad we're spared having him aboard for the long tour of KFC country.

The film is a modest vehicle for these large talents and should have earned its funding as a matter of product placement. At the end of what I swore was a 2-hour movie (it runs only 85 minutes) I wanted to pat writer-director Jordan Roberts on the back for having the chance to unload his troubling family history -- something I'd guess he had to wait for years to accomplish. Anyone who hasn't yet seen it might want to wait also... for the DVD to appear in the bins. In the meanwhile.. drumstick anyone?

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                           ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Jonah Bobo and Josh Lucas
Father and son, troubled road

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