The Wendell Baker Story - Review
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Director Commentary; Making Wendell Baker: On Location with the Wilsons; Afternoon at Luke’s.
THE Wilson brothers suffer a rare misfire in The Wendell Baker Story, a warm-hearted tale about a loveable rogue that’s let down by a badly uneven tone.
Written and co-directed by Luke Wilson, the film does boast some engaging performances and at times feels like an amiable spin-off of the far superior My Name Is Earl, but it just doesn’t hang together as a whole and feels like a missed opportunity.
People-person Wendell (Luke Wilson) makes money by selling fake ID cards to illegal Mexican immigrants with the help of his partner-in-crime Reyes (Jacob Vargas). When the scam fails and he’s sent to prison, he also faces the loss of lifelong love interest Doreen (Eva Mendes), a woman he’d come to take for granted, and who has moved on to a grocery store manager (Will Ferrell).
Upon receiving early parole, Wendell determines to turn his life around and, after expressing interest in the hotel business, is assigned to work at a retirement home run poorly by a corrupt mother and son (Owen Wilson). He subsequently takes on the establishment with the help of its wise elderly residents (including Harry Dean Stanton and Kris Kristoffersen) and finds his life taking on a whole new purpose as a result.
The Wendell Baker Story is a frustrating film in many ways because it’s heart is clearly in the right place. Luke Wilson delivers a genuinely engaging central performance and makes Wendell worth rooting for but every time the movie seems to have got its act together, it comes unstuck by some odd comedic choices.
Owen Wilson’s unscrupulous retirement home boss is a poorly defined character, for instance, whose wise-cracking at the expense of patients (including pot-shots at cancer) and general mis-treatment of them flies pretty close the mark. While his second-hand man, played by Eddie Griffin, is similarly woeful and merely highlights what a one-dimensional performer Griffin has become of late.
Eva Mendes isn’t afforded enough screen-time to really make the central romance work, while many of the film’s talented elderly cast (including Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel) also feel under-used.
Attempts to balance the hick comedy of My Name Is Earl with the surrealism of regular Wilson cohort Wes Anderson also feels awkward and not in its best interests.
But for anyone who sticks with it, there are laughs to be had from Wilson and Ferrell’s rivalry, as well as some poignant interaction between Wendell and his elderly charges. It’s just that the film’s best moments have the habit of making its lesser ones seem even worse. The overall result is a distinctly underwhelming experience that has to go down as a failure for everyone concerned.
Running time 99mins
UK DVD Release: July 14, 2008