I’m sorry to say that the best preview of the summer didn’t deliver the best film.
My sister and I, both big fans of Robert Duvall and any movie that’s sentimental and has lots of wide-open spaces and goofy dogs (as well as a fat pig and an old lion) were eagerly anticipating Secondhand Lions. Unabashedly, the film’s previews had encapsulated the story of two old codgers and a troubled boy left on their porch stoop, promising a film that would pack an emotional wallop. Well, it turned out to be more like a whimper.
Lions was pleasant to watch, warm and charming, funny every now and then, and occasionally thoughtful; but in the end, as my sister said on the way out of the theater, “Gee, that was a big disappointment.”
This was a movie with lovely performances, a mixture of fantasy and reality, messages about the true ideals of real men (“honor, courage and virtue”), and a mystery involving a big pile of money — but too many stories, especially if none of them are resolved onscreen, dissipate the emotional reaction to any one of them. (I must say that not everyone would agree with me: Among the Sunday-night audience in which I viewed the movie, there were several hearty rounds of applause when Lions ended.)
Despite having to take full responsibility for the movie’s flaws, writer/director Tim McCanlies (Dancer, Tex. Pop 81 ) is also due kudos for its good elements, especially the three compelling main characters. Robert Duvall (Open Range) gives a lovely performance as Hub, an aging swashbuckler who wants nothing more from life than to die “with his boots on.” Michael Caine (The Ugly American) obviously enjoyed himself in the role of Duvall’s low-key brother, Garth. And as Walter, their young nephew, Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) is achingly realistic — perhaps playing himself, caught in that unforgiving awkward stage between gawky kid (“He’s a wienie!” Duvall complains) and grownup.
As for the plot: It’s summertime, somewhere in the 1950s, and two world-weary brothers have taken up residence in their dilapidated childhood home in a remote section of Texas. They amuse themselves by shooting at salesmen who dare to venture up their driveway. Each of these hapless entrepreneurs, as well as greedy relatives, are compelled to visit the brothers because of the rumors of a huge fortune in cash hidden somewhere in the house. The legacy of a lifetime of bankrobbing? Or, as others believe, gifts from an oil-rich sheik who admired the brothers’ courage when they were in the French Foreign Legion?
Enter Mae, (Kyra Sedgwick, Labor Pains their dead sister’s daughter, now a single mother whose matrimonial plans are complicated by the existence of her son, Walter. So she dumps the boy with his great uncles, hoping Walter will ingratiate himself with them, and inherit their loot.
The film gives us a young man learning the value of believing in dreams, and old men remembering what it was like when they lived what they believed. Plus, four punks in a bar get a whipping that will make every guy in the audience over 70 grin from ear to ear. There’s also a pig that thinks he’s a dog, a lion roaming a corn patch and a yacht that’s at home in a fish pond.
There are indeed lots of things to like in this movie — but a string of vignettes does not a movie make. Now that you know ahead of time to lower your expectations for Lions, go ahead and enjoy it for what it is.
–reviewed by Marci Miller