out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
Written and directed by Tim McCanlies (1998's "Dancer, Texas Pop.
81"), "Secondhand Lions" aspires to be a nostalgia-filled coming-of-age
story set in Texas, while at the same time a fantastical adventure
complete with sword fights and daring escapes set in Africa. While
each individual section might have worked on their own with further
story and character development, they do not mesh well when interweaved
together. What is left, then, is a well-meaning trifle, earnestly
performed but way too bland and vanilla to elicit much in the way
of rooting interest or lasting memorability.
Set in the 1950's, soft-spoken 12-year-old Walter (Haley Joel Osment)
is left by his self-involved mother, Mae (Kyra Sedgwick), to stay
with his two eccentric great-uncles, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth
(Michael Caine), for a few months. Rumor has it that Hub and Garth
have piles of money stashed away somewhere on their propert, and the
money-and-man-hungry Mae's goal is for Walter to win the graces of
his relatives so that they will leave the cash to them in their wills.
Without a telephone or television, Walter has no choice but to spend
all his time with Hub and Garth, who mostly live off their Texas land
and delight in pulling out rifles on traveling salesmen. In the process,
he begins to greatly admire and look up to his uncles, whom he comes
to realize serve as more fit and caring parents than his own mother
ever has. Meanwhile, Walter is fascinated by the stories Garth tells
him of their adventures years before in Africa, where Hub won the
heart of a dangerous Sheik's wife-to-be, Jasmine (Emmanuelle Vaugier).
While the storytelling sequences set in Africa do, indeed, reveal
themselves at the end to serve a true purpose, they are ineffectively
carried out. The love story between Hub and Jasmine is so undernourished
that its aftermath holds no weight in the 1950's scenes, while its
moments of adventure play like scene rejects from "The Princess Bride"
and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Because they do not work, the viewer
is taken out of the immediate plot every time Garth starts to spin
one of these tales. Had the coming-of-age story been more involving,
this would be a small price to pay. As it is, the Africa scenes only
expose Walter's story to be one that is too subjectively clean-cut and aimless.
One never really gets a firm grip while watching "Secondhand Lions"
where its rooting interest should lay. The story of Walter and his
uncles, while offering up some amiably heartwarming moments (a heart-to-heart
between Walter and Hub, and the scenes with an unlikely pet lion spring
to mind), is so lightweight that it often threatens to simply drift
away. Had writer-director Tim McCanlies zeroed in on exactly who Walter
was and the full experiences he had as he came of age, rather than
focusing solely on the loopy sincerity of Hub and Garth, the results
would have not only been more interesting, but also more truthful
to the act of a young boy growing up. Only near the conclusion, when
Walter comes into his own and uses the wise lessons his uncles have
taught him to finally stand up to his mother, does the film hold any
sort of emotional weight.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman
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