The Wendell Baker Story (2007) Has ironic detachment become the new sincerity? It would be easy to call The Wendell Baker Story the scrappy, quirky tale of an outlaw-dude con… 2007-05-18 PG-13 PT99M Comedy Drama Romance Luke Wilson Owen Wilson Eva Mendes THINKFilm
Movie Review

The Wendell Baker Story (2007)

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Luke Wilson, Harry Dean Stanton, ... | QUICK DRAWL Stanton and Luke Wilson make nice in Wendell Baker , in which the Wilson brothers try to get by on their brand of…
Image credit: Laura Wildon
QUICK DRAWL Stanton and Luke Wilson make nice in Wendell Baker, in which the Wilson brothers try to get by on their brand of absurd charm. Try.
EW's GRADE
C-

Details Limited Release: May 18, 2007; Rated: PG-13; Length: 99 Minutes; Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance; With: Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson; Distributor: THINKFilm

Has ironic detachment become the new sincerity? It would be easy to call The Wendell Baker Story the scrappy, quirky tale of an outlaw-dude con man, only that description leaves out its key selling point: The entire movie comes at you in air quotes. Luke Wilson, who wrote and codirected and also plays the breezy scoundrel hero, bounces from one predicament to the next (selling fake IDs to Mexican immigrants; working at a ''retirement hotel''), never showing the tiniest variation in mood or inflection, never altering his life-is-a-late-night-comedy-sketch obliviousness. He's Attitude Man, cruising along on his smugly self-amused ''charm.'' In prison, when Wendell stares at his best girl (Eva Mendes) through the Plexiglas and says, ''I'd take a month in solitary for just one kiss,'' the romanticism is so mocking it's absurd, so absurd it's hi-larious (as opposed to, you know, funny), and therefore the film's version of a heartfelt gesture. Or something.

The Wendell Baker Story has been kicking around since 2005 at festivals, where it has won a bit of a following, making me one of the few who don't ''get'' it. I enjoyed Owen Wilson's performance as a venal rest-home official — his line readings have bite, as opposed to Luke's mild solipsistic droop — and Seymour Cassel and Harry Dean Stanton both perform with grizzled gumption. But The Wendell Baker Story just feels like an attempt to rebottle the postmodern fizz of Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket. I wish instead they'd put a stopper in it.

Originally posted May 16, 2007 Published in issue #935 May 25, 2007 Order article reprints