Secondhand Lions

Movie Information

In Brief: It's impossible to deny that Secondhand Lions (2003) is sugary to the point of of needing a diabetic warning. This contrived and manipulative tale of a neglected boy being foisted on a pair of grumpy old uncles who were ignorant of the kid's existence is meant to warm the viewer's heart and invoke a tear or two. Apparently, it works on a fair number of folks, though not enough to make it turn a profit or to keep if from stopping Haley Joel Osment's movie career pretty much dead in its tracks. All I'll say is it's not unwatchable, but it's a goodly distance shy of what it means to be.
Genre: Family Comedy Drama
Director: Tim McCanlies
Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick, Nicky Katt, Josh Lucas
Rated: PG

I managed to fob this off on Marci Miller when it came out in 2003 — she wanted to see it and even then found it disappointing. As a result, I thought I had dodged Secondhand Lions for all time. I hadn’t reckoned on the Hendersonville Film Society exhuming the film. I will say that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. It still isn’t good. Writer-director Tim McCanlies (best known for writing 1999’s The Iron Giant) has packed this rather gooey confection with all the crotchey old men and neglected child cliches in the book — and may have invented a few new ones. When that didn’t add up to a feature film, he threw in pretty cheesy flashbacks showing the crusty curmudgeons as young men in — of all things — the French Foreign Legion. The results are kind of like a budget constrained version of Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003) made by people who mistake goofiness for whimsy. I found it pretty indigestible.

That said, apparently a great many people — mostly of the “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” mindset — appear to love Secondhand Lions with a fervor that verges on the frightening. However much you like the thing, calling it the “best movie ever made” is clearly hyperbole. I do appreciate the fact that it essentially killed Haley Joel Osment’s movie career. The “cute” factor that had gotten him through earlier films is no longer with the squinty pubescent actor who had obviously done at stint at the Corey Haim Institute for Open-mouthed Performing. Old pros Michael Caine and Robert Duvall were of course bulletproof, but their roles were hardly taxing. Caine’s role, in particular, is so underwritten that seems to be an afterthought — which may or may not explain his half-assed attempt at a Texas accent. The story of the kid being dumped on his mildly crazy coot uncles follows the exact “life lessons for everyone shtick” you expect. But to make sure all this goes down, McCanlies punctuates the movie with cute animal reaction shots — a covey of dogs and a lone pig that disappears part-way through (I suspect bacon was involved), not to mention the aged lioness that figures into the proceedings and a fleeting appearance by a giraffe. As I said, this picture does appeal to a large — or at least vocal — group of people. You may be among them.

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Secondhand Lions Sunday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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