11
Dec
08

Secondhand Lions

secondhandlions01

If Secondhand Lions serves any purpose in these post-Pixar days, it’s as a retrofied reminder of exactly how far the children’s movie has come recently. Sneaking in one last cute-kid role before he has to start shopping for shaving supplies, Haley Joel Osment is Walter, an introverted 14-year-old forced by his inattentive mother (Kyra Sedgwick) to spend the summer with two distant relatives. His great-uncles Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall) are crotchety recluses, spending their days sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch and intimidating the occasional traveling salesman with shotgun blasts. Faster than you can say “tender coming-of-age story,” Walter is discovering his uncles’ swashbuckling past and helping them rekindle their youthful spirit, along the way gaining some maturity himself. It’s a story that demands some epic sweep, but writer-director Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant) instead imbues his film with an episodic, small-screen feel: Scenes of Garth and Hub’s globe-trotting, hell-raising glory days are recounted in a series of low-rent, wannabe-Indiana Jones flashbacks, and an in-case-you-forgot final-reel montage is just plain condescending, even in a movie geared to children. Although the cast acquits itself ably enough—especially Duvall, who wisely plays eccentric without going over the top—dialogue is a major problem, most notably when Hub conveys to Walter this delusional mantra, er, timeless wisdom: “Just because something isn’t true, that’s no reason you can’t believe in it!” The end-credits visuals, featuring the adult Walter’s comic strips based on his childhood and illustrated by Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed, seem like a missed opportunity, more compelling in two minutes than anything that came before. Perhaps if these images had been expanded, Secondhand Lions could have given Finding Nemo a run for its sophisticated-kids’-flick money. As it is, though, the film comes off like a long-since-syndicated special that mistakenly found its way into theaters.

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