Published Sep 01, 2003It looks like an interesting film. It stars Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. It even has that kid from The Sixth Sense, all grown up hey, wasn't he nominated for an Oscar? So why then is Secondhand Lions such a second-rate film? Even the premise has promise.
When Walter's floozy mother Mae (Kyra Sedgewick) tells him he will be staying with his uncles for the summer while she attends typing school, Walter (Haley Joel Osment) is incredulous. He didn't even know he had uncles. The two prodigal brothers have just returned to town, trailing behind them a load of gossip about a hidden fortune in their possession. When Mae turns up at their dilapidated farm unannounced and talks them into taking Walter for the summer, all involved parties are uneasy about the arrangement, to say the least. Hub (Duvall) and Garth (Caine) certainly know nothing about taking care of a boy and Walter knows nothing about living with deranged hermits. But Walter is soon won over by their fantastical stories of European adventures and Arabian nights, and Hub and Garth are equally wooed by Walter's earnest charm.
One reason why this movie falls short of its promise is that it doesn't make use of the talent at hand, and the only person we can really blame for that is director/writer Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant). We know that Michael Caine and Robert Duvall can act, and that Osment and Sedgewick also have talent, but in this film the actors seem lost like a parody of themselves. With a little more direction maybe it wouldn't have seemed so much like puberty has changed more than Osment's cracking voice the recitation of his lines is so rehearsed-sounding he might as well be on the stage of a high school auditorium. Christian Kane (Just Married) and Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), in minor roles, are also poorly used.
Perhaps the actors had a difficult time deciding what kind of movie they were in. Is it a comedy, is it a drama? Yes. But it doesn't meld the two. It's too serious at times to be a comedy and too goofy at others to be a drama. It's an awkward fit, like Caine's beautiful British accent squashed into a bulky Southern one. Or Gone with the Wind meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Okay, it's not quite that bizarre.
Add to that obvious flaws the convenient lack of a proprietor when the boys decide to get into a rumble at a roadside restaurant and the evident outline of Osment's microphone pack as Walter runs from the mailbox that he has searched for a letter from his wayward mother, and it equals, sadly, a missed mark on this one. (Alliance Atlantis)