Secondhand Lions (2003)

Written & Directed by Tim McCanlies
Starring Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick, Nicky Katt


Released by New Line
Rating: PG
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent it.

Walter (Osment) hasn't exactly had the best of lives. His mother (Sedgwick) is a royal flake, and keeps dumping him off various places (relatives' homes, summer camps, orphanages) so she can be free to go find some other useless male upon which she can try to attach herself, remora-like, in the hopes that he will solve all her problems. Her latest ploy--to foist Walter on his two great uncles, Hub and Garth (Duvall and Caine)--is two-fold. One is of course to get rid of her son for a while, the other is that the old men are rumored to have a fortune stashed away somewhere--perhaps Walter might be kind enough to sniff the goodies out while he's there? Trouble is, his great-uncles aren't used to having kids around and they positively hate their relatives. It had the potential to be a long, long summer.

The bottom line is that this is an eminently watchable, fun flick. It has some good messages that stop just a hair's breadth of being Messages. It has some great acting by the trifecta of talent that comprise the main characters. Caine's Texas accent is commendable, Osment continues to shine, but Duvall steals the show being...well, really, just a version of Duvall: i.e., old, mean and not really somebody you want to screw around with. The three of them manage to carry this film over its weak points. The weaknesses are few but they are broad. For one thing, the film is quite predictable--but it never attempts to be a twisty film, and it is a family film for God's sake--so no one's lamenting too loudly. And the ending is a little bit too tidy--but then again, it's the ending that needed to happen. So again, we only notate these, we don't really complain too strenuously.

As for the DVD release, it continues with the schmaltz factor--turned up a little high in places--but it's not bad. First up, the commentary from McCanlies is a necessary addition. This is his baby, and he fills the entire film with discussions on the hows and whys of the project--the kind of good, solid gab that you would want from such a commentary. There's also a featurette covering the journey of the script from its creation through the decade-plus process of getting the damn thing produced. While it's a surprisingly frank look at the insanity of getting screenplays greenlit, watching it I had the sneaking suspicion the folks at New Line had ulterior motives for including such a feature. There's a great deal of honesty involved: when the producer talks about what a slush pile of scripts she has to go through, she's probably being conservative, for example, and every shot of these guys in their offices has a backdrop of shelves upon shelves with scripts out the wazoo. I couldn't help but think: New Line's trying to cut down on the number of budding screenwriters in the country--because after all, who could look at those odds and not think, "Jesus, I should have gone into aluminum siding like my dad wanted"?

The deleted and alternate scenes are fairly extensive--moreso than most, anyway--and they also serve a great purpose. The ending that's provided as the original ending is far inferior to the one in the film--so it's a great example of how you can suddenly realize that you're not one hundred percent on target...and importantly, correct that. The commentary on each is helpful because McCanlies is very forthcoming about where they were missing the mark in some cases, and how they fixed each situation.

The other two featurettes, the obligatory on the set piece and the one covering Osment, are fluff--but high quality fluff. The former is filled with the smoke blowing we've come to despise around here--but it's not overpowering, and there is some good to be had in it. And the Osment piece will be interesting to fans of the young actor. He comes off as very intelligent and mature for his age, and McCanlies spends most of his part of things just praising him up one side and down the other.

Last thing of note are the visual effects comparisons. They're short and basically in split screen, showing you the actual shooting on one half and the final product in the other. Even after something like Lord of the Rings it's still very impressive to see how seamless people can do something in order to create a French port in very little space.

While the movie may not be a keeper for everybody, certainly there will be those among you who must own--and if you must, do so without fear. The DVD is a worthy treatment. Granted, an audio commentary from the three leads would be priceless, but hey, we're mostly sated on this one. If nothing else, you should rent this, because it's a very enjoyable, cute, inoffensive film that's actually family friendly without being pablum. So that's a rarity.

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