Secondhand Lions

After watching Secondhand Lions, one thing is abundantly clear: it would be awesome to have Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as uncles. Even as crotchety as their characters are in the film. Secondhand Lions is an old-fashioned movie that makes people smile. There is nothing extraordinary about it except that it is really well told by writer/director Tim McCanlies (Dancer, Texas Pop. 81), who knows a thing or two about movies like this, after all, he wrote Iron Giant). It also helps that the caliber of acting here, with Caine, Duvall, and Haley Joel Osment, is amazing.

The premise is that Walter (Osment, The Jungle Book 2, The Country Bears) is spending the summer with his great-uncles Hub (Duvall, Open Range, Gods & Generals) and Garth (Caine, The Quiet American, Austin Powers in Goldmember). Walter's mother (Kyra Sedgwick, Just a Kiss, Personal Velocity) says that she is off to court reporting school, but Walter knows better. His uncles are a different matter. The initial impression is that they are insane. They disappeared for years, before returning to live by themselves. They enjoy shooting at any salesmen that come onto their property, and have no idea how to care for a child.

It is very obvious where this is going, and McCanlies doesn't even try to hide it. Hub and Garth could use some softening up, and Walter needs some sort of adult role model. Hub and Garth are frosty at first, but eventually warming up to Walter. It also turns out that rumors are swirling about how the two may have millions of dollars stashed away. Walter's mother wants Walter to find out where the money is, as do some other nosy relatives. Walter is curious, but in the end doesn't care. When prompted, Garth begins a fantastic yarn about how he and Hub spent time in the French Foreign Legion, fighting for their lives in Africa. McCanlies flashes back to the past, with Christian Kane (Just Married, Life or Something Like It) and Kevin Haberer playing younger versions of the brothers. These sequences almost have an old-fashioned feel about them, like one is watching an old film.

This story enchants Walter, and in the end, Hub says it doesn't matter where the money came from, if indeed there is money. All that matters is that the three care for each other, and form a strange familial unit. Hub and Garth have all these harebrained schemes that they want to try, now that Walter is there to stoke their imagination and they seem to have the income. They buy a biplane, some used circus animal (including the lion that gives the film its title), and, gasp, even grow vegetables. All these experiences together all the three to grow close together. Is Secondhand Lions cheesy? Yes it is. It is warm, sentimental, and pretty much without depth, but McCanlies makes the film so slickly that one could hardly care.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated PG for thematic material, language, and action violence.

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