review by Dan
Lybarger, 19 September 2003
Secondhand Lions features
three of the best actors in business and leaves viewers with a warm
fuzzy feeling. Curiously the film quickly fades from memory like one
of those disposable DVDs. The
film features some gorgeous cinematography from Jack N. Green (Unforgiven)
and a script by its director Tim McCanlies, who wrote the charmingly
clever animated adaptation of The Iron Giant. Because it
never quite reaches its enormous potential, Secondhand Lions
feels like a disappointment even though there's much to praise.
The idea of casting Sir Michael
Caine and the All-American Robert Duvall as eccentric brothers named
Garth and Hub seems a bit of a stretch, but the two do have nicely
complementary acting styles. Both are low-key performers who can do
more with a shrug or a glance than most other performers do with
volumes of dialogue.
Their characters are two reclusive
fellows that all of people in the nearby Texas town talk about but
none really know. The only thing anyone seems to ascertain about
them is that they're rich. Blindly hopeful salesmen ignore their
copious warning signs only to find their cars riddled with bullets
courtesy of the privacy-loving siblings.
Their lead-enforced solitude is
broken when their Machiavellian niece Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) unloads
her reluctant son Walter (Haley Joel Osment) on them. Before they
can refuse, she skips town and even leaves the lad a phony
forwarding address, sticking them with him indefinitely.
Despite their odd habits (the two
don't own a TV, and Hub sleepwalks), they quickly take to Walter
because he's their only relative who isn't after their money. Garth
even lets the lad in on their adventurous past. Walter isn't sure
how much to believe, but it makes more sense than the rumors he's
heard from the folks in town. These flashbacks are shot in a
cartoonish manner that matches the way a kid like Walter would
imagine them. The film's humor generally works. One scene that seems
to stick in the mind: when a lion Garth and Hub have bought for an
attempted safari proves to be an indifferent prey, so the three make
it a pet.
McAnlies loads the film with a
gooey sentimentality that quickly gets old. The heavy-handed
manipulation is particularly unwelcome toward the end, although
Caine's light touch helps. He seems to get more interesting with
age, finding subtle flourishes that make a simple reaction shot
mesmerizing. Because his own Cockney drawl is so familiar, Caine's
reasonably convincing Texas accent takes some getting used to.
Duvall expectedly has an easier time in that department and makes
the most of his showier role.
With such intimidating company,
Osment holds his own nicely. Despite his impressive track record,
it's still astonishing how this young guy can convey complicated
emotions so effortlessly.
At times watching the three of them
in Secondhand Lions is about like listening to the Three
Tenors breaking into pop tunes. It might not sound too bad, but
their virtuosity might have been better served with more ageless and