September 24, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
115 Minutes — September 26, 2008
Comedy / Drama
Neil Burger [The Illusionist]
Sometimes Losing Your Way Home Means Finding Yourself
There isn’t much to this film. Three soldiers, injured in combat, take the same flight from Germany to New York City. They fall into easy conversation on the flight, discussing where they were stationed, why they’re going home, and for how long. Colee (Rachel McAdams) is naive and open and trusting, and does most of the talking. Cheever is played by Tim Robbins as a man whose career in the reserves has come to an end. He can’t wait to get home, see his family, and get reacquainted with the civilian world. TK (Michael Pena) is a macho soldier coming to grips with an injury to his manhood (literally), though he describes his wound as “upper thigh”.
A power outage means that each of their connecting flights has been canceled. The kindness of the guy at the Dollar Car Rental counter (You guys Army? I have one car left) means they are soon on their way in a rented minivan to see the country and to drive non-stop to St. Louis where Cheever will be home and the other two will catch flights to their final destinations.
There is nothing new or unique in this film, whatsoever. Cheever’s wife will chose his arrival to announce their divorce, his son will be proud of his acceptance to Stanford and in the next breath will say “they need $20,000 by next Saturday.” There will be a bar fight, car trouble, people blaming them for the conduct of the war, tears, hugs, romance, jail, and humor. They will all end up in Vegas because that’s where road trip movies end up these days.
I have nothing against road movies. In fact, I rather like the idea of being forced by circumstance to get to know other people while experiencing (or at least driving quickly past) the vastness of the US of A. But, even for a road trip film, this thing meanders all over the place. It aspires to be something bigger–the story of three people learning about the country they’re fighting and being wounded for. They don’t know about American Idol, or the way cocktail chatter often revolves around how bad a mistake Iraq was. They are told “thank you” on a half-dozen occasions, by people they come into contact with, though it seems people say it more out of a sense of duty or relief that it isn’t them in the fatigues, than any actual feelings of gratitude.
The three leads are more than up to the task. McAdams is fiery and beautiful and isn’t as unbelievable as you might imagine as a combat veteran. Robbins is normal and puts aside his usual smarter-than-thou persona to good use–although his marital meltdown seems out of place for his level-headed character. Pena is becoming a very good actor–he’s charismatic, bull-headed, and afraid his fiance will leave him when she learns of his “infirmity”.
But the script is a mess. There are situations that don’t really happen and then there are situations that everyone in the audience sees coming long before the characters do. Robbins hooks up at a BBQ for no other reason than comic effect. There is a preposterous scene involving a tornado (in New Mexico or Colorado, I think) when TK and Colee head off to the store for some powerbars, encounter ominous clouds, then rain, then hail, then they pull over to the side of the road. A tornado appears (ILM has nothing to worry here about effects-wise) but they still have time to have a discussion about getting out of the car and running to a conveniently located drainage pipe under the freeway where the two attractive leads can hold each other while the scary storm blows past. They then get in their car, which shows no proof of the near-fatal twister, and head back to a campground to pick up Cheever, never mentioning it again.
There’s a plot about a guitar handed down from Elvis Presley to Colee’s late boyfriend. Will she return it to his family or give it to Cheever for his son’s tuition? How will Cheever find the money? Will TK really run to Canada to avoid his third tour of duty? Why is there a scene in a Nevada jail?
None of this adds up to much. These three actors deserve much better.
THE LUCKY ONESTags: 5.2, Comedy, Drama, Michael Pena, Neil Burger, Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins