Around the Bend
August 31, 2005
Around the Bend (2004) is one of those character-driven, independent films that desperately wants to evoke the hey-day of American cinema in the ‘70s but comes up too short because it fails to transcend its contrived premise. It’s a shame because the film features a solid cast of actors but ultimately does little more than make you wonder, is this a thoughtful character study or a 90-minute ad for KFC?
The Lair family is very dysfunctional. Jason (Lucas) is raising his son, Zack (Bobo), and separated from his wife. They live with their great-grandfather, Henry (Caine). Their lives are uprooted when Jason’s father, Turner (Walken), shows up on his doorstep. He’s a criminal with a shady past—the black sheep of the family, gone for 30 years. His presence, not surprisingly, creates a lot of tension. To help defuse it and bond the generations together, Henry organizes a road trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He does this at a local KFC with Zack and once he’s finished writing, he dies.
Henry’s dying wishes take the form of a number of unusual requests, including the aforementioned road trip with stops at KFCs in Arizona and New Mexico. So, the surviving Lair men pile into Turner’s VW van and they head out for the open road.
Christopher Walken wears the role well as Jason’s grizzled, down-on-his-luck father. He’s a burnt-out, former junkie and the lines on Walken’s weathered face speak volumes about the hard life his character must have led. Josh Lucas is also good as the rational member of the family and the voice of reason to Turner’s eccentric behaviour. It’s a thankless role as it is the least showy part but he is able to convey the frustration that his character feels towards his estranged father. The most interesting scenes in the movie to watch are between Walken and Lucas because their characters are in constant conflict with one another.
The film’s premise feels forced as it becomes obvious that Henry’s road trip/last will is a ruse to get the surviving Lair men to work out their years of estrangement before it is too late to do anything about it. The number of product placements for KFC is alarming, making one wonder if the fast-food chain helped finance the movie. Which is too bad because Around the Bend is a beautifully shot movie, complete with postcard perfect sunsets that are unfortunately used one time too often with the final straw being a shot of a, you guessed it, KFC at dusk.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Jordan Roberts. He mentions that his father passed away shortly before he started filming which puts an eerie, possibly autobiographical spin on what we are watching. Roberts articulates the themes of the movie in low-key fashion that comes off as a little dry at times.
“It’s A Good Day: The Making of Around the Bend” is a substantial 50-minute documentary. All the leads except for a conspicuously absent Walken are interviewed and talk about what attracted them to the project. The approach is a fly-on-the-wall look that shows Roberts’ trials and tribulations on his debut feature film.
There are a whopping 15 additional scenes with optional commentary by Roberts, including a nice scene between Henry and Jason but it delayed the arrival of Turner. There is also a scene where we see what Jason does for a living. The director does a good job of explaining why he cut these scenes—often for pacing or tone.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.