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RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
- Afternoon at Luke’s with Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel
- Making Wendell Baker: On Location with the Wilsons
- Bonus Scenes
- Inside Wendell Baker: A Commentary from Luke Wilson and Andrew Wilson
- Special Musical Performance by Billy Joe Shaver
- The Wendell Baker Photo Album
The two lesser known Wilson brothers try their hand at directing.
Two flavors of Wilson (Luke and Owen), Eddie Griffin, Eva Mendes, Jacob Vargas, Seymour Cassel, Kris Kristofferson, and Harry Dean Stanton.
Upon his release from prison, Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) has lost his dog, his best friend Reyes (Vargas), and his girl Doreen (Mendes). But he is employed; at a retirement hotel run by Neil King (Owen Wilson). Turns out things are pretty shady down at Shady Grove. King sends some of the residents up to his mother’s farm. He steals their Medicare checks and sells their medication while they toil away doing menial labor for Ma King. So it’s up to Wendell and the three hotel residents he’s befriended, Boyd, Nasher, and Skip (Cassel, Kristofferson, and Stanton), to fix things. And maybe, just maybe, Wendell will reconnect with Reyes, reconcile with Doreen, and all will be right with the world.
Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t take kindly to strangers coming on his property
and looking for Abel Gance’s Napoleon.
The Wendell Baker Story disappoints, even with lowered expectations. The few bright spots aren’t enough to overcome the scattershot script. Wendell doesn’t commit to Doreen until it’s too late. Likewise, the script never commits to any of the storylines. A lot of time is spent on Wendell and Reyes’ fake ID scheme. It shows us their relationship and Wendell’s personality, but we just got done with the scene where Doreen tells us everything we need to know about Wendell, so it’s more redundant than anything. The retirement hotel feels like the major story thread, but it gets the short end of the pen. The “Greyhound treatment” is glossed over. We see McTeague shove a couple of residents into his car and drive off. King explains his scheme to Wendell, saying that McTeague can’t be trusted. We’re never given any reason why King’s losing his faith in his right-hand man, other than King saying McTeague’s an idiot. The only reason for their conversation is so Wendell (and the audience) knows what’s going on. King repeatedly mentions Wendell being the perfect fall guy in case things go wrong, but there is no reason for needing a fall guy. Nobody comes nosing around, looking for a missing relative. None of the residents seem like they’re going to blow the whistle. They just try to keep quiet and stay out of trouble.
Another problem I had was everything being too easy for Wendell. Prison is a playground. He fits right in at the retirement hotel, with the residents anyway. Three phone calls and a simple trick is all it takes to bring King and McTeague down. The only challenge he faces in the rescue mission is Ma King’s shotgun. Nasher knows exactly where her farm is and just so happens to have plane they can fly in. We never learn how Nasher figured out the location. It might have something to do with his short-wave radio, but we can’t be sure. The Wendell Baker Story wants to be a lighthearted romp, but that doesn’t excuse it from sloppy storytelling.
Nothing says hello like an open fly.
The one source of pleasure in the film is (some of) the acting. Things get good any time Seymour Cassel and Harry Dean Stanton are onscreen. There’s a real camaraderie between the two men. We look into Stanton’s eyes and see everything we need to know. The loss. The wistfulness. The hope. The same goes for Cassel. When King confronts Boyd about the graffiti in the bathroom, Boyd plays dumb. The only clue to his guilt is the twinkle in his eye, the satisfaction in sticking it the man. They are really the only reason to see the film. Possibly the best geriatric duo since JFK and Elvis.
While the veterans make the most of what they’re given, the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. Wendell Baker should be somewhat of a huckster. Luke Wilson manages the enthusiasm, but lacks the charisma to really carry the role. Eva Mendes says her lines and looks pretty. The lack of chemistry between Wilson and her kills any interest we may have had in their formulaic relationship. Owen Wilson sleepwalks through his role, seemingly there just to support his kin.
Unsurprisingly, the best special feature is the “Afternoon at Luke’s” piece. It’s basically the Wilsons getting Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel around a table and asking them about their careers and working methods. Cassel and Stanton have plenty of stories to tell and they can tell them well. Really great stuff.
The rest of the special features are nowhere near as enjoyable. “Making Wendell Baker: On Location with the Wilsons” is a typically fluffy making-of documentary. Everybody says how great it was working on the film. They talk a bit about the genesis of the project, Andrew and Luke’s directing style, and the odd couple that is Seymour Cassel and Harry Dean Stanton. The commentary has a lot of pauses, describing what’s happening onscreen, congratulating the cast, and talking about the same thing over and over again. Not the most compelling listen. “The Wendell Baker Photo Album” is a Ken Burns-y slideshow of production stills. Trailers for The Wendell Baker Story and a handful of other THINKFilm releases round out the extras.
5.2 out of 10