The Wilson Brothers, Luke, Andrew and Owen return to the screen in a project written (Luke) and directed by Luke and Andrew Wilson. In The Wendell Baker story Wilson boys do just about everything, and that's not a particularly good thing. There's a reason this film sat on the shelf for over two years, it's wildly uneven in spots, but there's also moments where you can see that there's a good idea and film in here.
Writing and starring in a film must be an intimidating and rewarding process. It gives you a chance to have control over your work and image so you must wonder what was it about this story that made Luke Wilson want invest so much of his time on it. Watching this film is like eating a bitter and sweet piece of candy, neither of which is necessarily good for you.
The sweet part of this film is the primary story of Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) a kind hearted schemer who dreams of being rich one day, if only one of his wild cons work out. He and his side-kick Reyes (Jacob Vargas) try every con there is from an insurance scam to their latest scheme – providing fake IDs to illegals coming across the border. It's all harmless crimes. When he gets busted and sent to jail he loses his long suffering girlfriend, Doreen (Eva Mendes).
At first jail is just another fun adventure for Wendell, it's like he's hanging out with his new pals, playing football, cards, organizing the inmates. He's having so much fun that he doesn't take his initial parole hearing seriously. Everything changes for him when Doreen dumps him for good.
He eventually cleans up his act enough to get paroled and sent to work at a state run nursing home run by two misfits, Neil King (Owen Wilson) and his assistant McTeague (Eddie Griffin). Of course he befriends the residents; the reclusive Nasher (Kris Kristofferson), randy Skip (Harry Dean Stanton), and randier Boyd (Seymour Cassel) starts organizing to get them to revolt against King. At the same time Baker is trying desperately to win back Doreen.
The first half hour of Wendell Baker is this sweet innocent little romantic comedy that's really starting to work, you slowly get sucked in and start to care a bit about Wendell but when the film gets to the nursing home, it becomes a completely different animal. It's as if someone slaps you in the face to get you to pay attention.
Owen Wilson and Eddie Griffin are so in love with themselves that it feels as if they are in a completely different film. They are over the top "evil" and not in a funny way and it felt really out of place.
It's always hard to talk about the direction of a film when it's directed by two people but Andrew Wilson and Luke do an ok job. It would be nice if they had settled on a pace and stuck with it, but this could have something to do with the story, as much as I hated the stuff with the nursing home because it felt contrived and forced, it also felt rush. There wasn't enough time spent really developing the characters but we do get a sense of who Boyd, Nasher and Skip are. Again, I realize I'm contradicting myself, but this entire film is a contradiction. It doesn't know what it wants to be and tries too hard to be both a slacker comedy and a drama.
I love Eva Mendes, she's not in enough films. But here she is wasted and doesn't have much to do. Luke Wilson does show that he has that watchability factor, but he doesn't really stretch himself in this and is one note throughout most of the film. But he's still likeable enough that when he's on screen in the film's lighter moments the movie works.
The Wendell Baker story isn't bad or good, it's just "there." It'll be a perfectly fine DVD rental, just not something to see in a theater.
Final Grade C
EM Review by
Originally Posted 5/18/07