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IN SHORT: good for the whole family. [Rated PG-13 for thematic material, language and action violence. 107 minutes]
And so it came to be that a woman named Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) dumped her young son Walter (Haley Joel Osment) into the house of uncles Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub McCaan (Robert Duvall) so that she could be free to attend court reporting school elsewhere in Texas, sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Walter knows nothing of his uncles other than what his mother has told him; that they used to be bank robbers and have a million dollars stashed somewhere. Find the money.
Gee, no pressure on the kid.
Walter is stashed in the attic. There he finds a stash of old photographs, one of a lovely woman who may be the key. As Secondhand Lions unreels we will learn the story of this lovely young Jasmine (Emmanuelle Vaugier) and her marriage and tragic life with Hub. It is a tale which spans continents and cultures; brings the French Foreign Legion back to the big screen and has all the feel of the adventure novels we used to read as a young teenager.
It is paced like a Texas afternoon -- slow -- and flips back and forth between Garth's recollections and the quirky uncle's retirement distractions, in this case it is a second hand lion they intended to hunt and have stuffed for the mantle. Turns out the lion worked at a circus and is as tame as a kitty cat. Killing that wouldn't be any fun, eh? So it follows it's own path as the story plays out, and other relatives appear to try and find where the money is.
Walter doesn't care about the money. He just wants to stay out of the orphanage, mom's usual place to dump him. When she returns with new husband Stan (Nicky Katt), a decision will have to be made as to which man is more important.
The uncles are just quirky enough -- their other favorite occupation is shooting at traveling salesmen -- that whether or not any of their tales of adventure are true will come into question. Ditto for whether or not there really is any money to be found. The pacing is too slow for lower single digits but just right for the early doubles. Grownups get to watch two of our finest actors take something which would otherwise be ordinary and make it something extraordinary.
We know it was extraordinary. Our bad back was screaming like a banshee and the pain was forcing tears down our cheeks and we still endured and liked the film. We're just a sentimental old coot.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Secondhand Lions, he would have paid . . .
A front end flashback and rear end kick in the sentimental nether regions is all that gets in the way of our strong endorsement of The Iron Giant writer's sophomore directorial outing, Secondhand Lions. For completists, writer/director Tim McCanlies also did double duty on the praised (by us, the only critic that counts) Dancer Texas, pop. 81.
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