Do you have a wild uncle or cousin and often said to yourself, “Boy, you could put that guy in a movie?” A master of inebriation, bawdy remarks or the inappropriate comment, the guy is a riot at family gatherings. Just imagine if you let loose in an actual movie!
Well, think again about that movie project, given that with digital cameras just about anybody can make a movie these days. “Land Ho!” is not the worst-case scenario for what that movie might look like if you had skills as a filmmaker. It’s not terrible. Just an inside joke only your family will appreciate.
The film comes from writers-directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, both experienced filmmakers, and stars Stephens’ second cousin Earl Lynn Nelson.
Earl Lynn is a Southern surgeon, you see, with a good ol’ boy’s outsized personality and an ability — that many good actors would envy — of making the camera glum onto him with puppy-dog ardor.
But his second cousin lets him down. Her pitch to her co-conspirator was simple enough: “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we brought Earl Lynn to Iceland?”
Well, no, not unless you give him something hilarious to do. The mere fact of his living-large persona being unleashed in the spectacular scenery of that now-discovered international play station isn’t sufficient for laughs. Or drama for that matter.
“Land Ho!” will be a smash hit at the family Thanksgiving but why is it in theaters? Why did Sundance programmers wish to give it a world premiere? (At least it showed up in the festival’s sidebar of oddball and out-of-nowhere films.) And why did Sony Pictures Classics buy it for distribution?
Maybe Stephens has second-cousins everywhere.
Whatever the case, “Land Ho!” has occasional moments of humor or insight, but these get buried in an avalanche of mundane sightseeing and chance encounters that probably don’t measure up to events during your last holiday outing.
The running risqué commentary by Earl Lynn, playing a seventyish surgeon called Mitch who for all intents and purposes remains Earn Lynn, grows quickly tiresome. Nor is there much buddy-movie character development to be had in his relationship with ex-brother-in-law Colin, played by Australian-born actor Paul Eenhoorn.
The idea, in no way startling but certainly playable with the right screenplay, is to set these two men loose on an impromptu journey to the idyllic north to see what happens.
Mitch has grown weary of the routine his life has settled into and wants to reconnect and perhaps reinvigorate his former buddy Colin, an unassertive, morose ex-musician who got lost in the equally dull routine of a bank branch manager.
Temperamental opposites, each married two sisters and became friends. Those marriages are over but not their friendship. In Colin’s case, a second marriage has gone sour too.
Mitch has dough so he insists on taking Colin on a first-class tour of Iceland on the look-out for snow bunnies but most certainly for good food, drink — and pot.
You do get late-night conversations about life in the slower lanes of old age. The Odd Couple bickering that comes off as forced.
Good ol’ Earl Lynn plays himself quite well but that’s a two-edged sword. Eenhoorn looks sheepish most of the time as he, a trained professional actor, must play straight man to his more boisterous companion.
Revelations are slight and insignificant — things you can guess without being told — and encounters fleeting and equally insignificant. A double date with Mitch’s young cousin and a girlfriend (Karrie Crouse and Elizabeth McKee) just feels odd. With four decades age differences between the women and men, Mitch’s suggestive remarks and “youthful” appetites are off-putting.
It’s more interesting when the camera sneaks away from the dinner table into the kitchen to watch chefs prepare Icelandic cuisine. The dishes look yummy. Any of the country’s tourist bureaus will love this picture.
Ditto that for the men’s escape from Reykjavik in a Hummer into the country’s natural wonders up north including the Golden Circle with is thundering waterfalls, an erupting geyser, blue lagoons and craggy landscapes. All this is caught by the crew’s two digital Red One cameras under the direction of Andrew Reed with the enthusiastic backing of a lilting score by Keegan DeWitt.
Paul Mazursky, who passed last week, once showed how much poignancy and comic drama may be had by putting an old man and his cat on the road. So the opportunity did exist for a more dramatically eventful or wryly comic film.
And I suppose the filmmakers should be congratulated for not taking the “Grumpy Old Men” route to easy laughs and contrived adventures.
But the movie falls short in so many ways. At times “Land Ho!” is so tediously dull as to make one wish you can break away from your movie companions and seek your own adventures in these sharply beautiful northern climes.
Opens: July 11, 2014 (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production company: Gamechanger Films
Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, Alice Olivia Clarke, Emmsje Gauti
Directors/sccreenwriters: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz
Producers: Mynette Louie, Sara Murphy, Christina Jennings
Executive producers: David Gordon Green, Julie Parker Benello, Dan Cogan, Geralyn Dreyfous, Wendy Ettinger
Director of photography: Andrew Reed
Music: Keegan DeWitt
Editor: Aaron Katz
R rating, 95 minutes