At this point in his career march to a different drummer, the sight of Christopher Walken generates such a jolt of energy — from his electric-socket hair down to his almost-Astaire feet — that the minute he appears on screen, in good movies or junk, we stir, zapped by hope. A prime Walken character steals the show, then tap-dances off the stage, leaving us wanting more of him (but less of The Country Bears).
So if I want less of Turner Lair, the prodigal father Walken plays in the uninvolving boys-bonding-on-the-road melodrama Around the Bend, it has little to do with the star, who is only doing what is asked of him. Coif fully erect and eyeballs rattling, Walken storms, pouts, and at one point rocks out in the New Mexico desert night to tunes he blasts on an eight-track tape while his resentful son, Jason (Josh Lucas), and fascinated grandson, Zach (7-year-old Jonah Bobo), goggle at such a showy, eccentric display of life force.
It’s the showy story, script, and even staging that wear a fella out in this relentlessly precious feature debut by writer-director Jordan Roberts. He throws in enough ancillary eccentricity — and eccentrics — to populate a whole alternative road trip, but introduces too many tagalong oddballs to make us care about Turner and Jason with their fast-food meals (the Lairs make frequent stops for KFC) and greasy secrets from the past. Michael Caine appears for awhile, chicken-winging it as Turner’s own stubborn Pa, a damn colorful archaeologist planning his own funeral. Glenne Headly plays around as an excessively loopy nurse, donning a comedy-skit Danish accent that’s jarring in a drama about earnest male reconciliation. Even the rusting orange VW microbus that ferries the Lair clan is so distractingly funky that Walken, on full juice, clashes with the scenery.