Secondhand Lions (PG)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner30/09/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 115 mins

Enjoyable drama with good performances by its three leads but slightly let down by its irritating ending.

Curious as to whether Haley Joel Osment’s voice has broken yet? Itching to see Michael Caine do another American accent? Can’t get enough of movies about crazy old coots? Then Secondhand Lions may just be the movie for you…

Written and directed by Tim McCanlies (who wrote The Iron Giant), the film opens in the present day and cartoonist Walter (Josh Lucas) gets a call saying his two Crazy Uncles have carked it in a bi-plane accident. Cue the flashbacks...

Shotgun Toting Nutcases

The rest of the film is set in Texas in the early 1960s (this may be the only film set in 60s Texas in which no-one even mentions the Kennedy assassination). Haley Joel Osment (growing up fast, voice breaking) plays Young Walter and his Slutty Mom (Kyra Sedgewick) dumps him on Crazy Uncle Caine and Mental Uncle Duvall, with instructions that he should try and discover the whereabouts of their reputed secret fortune.

The Uncles’ only pastime is waiting for travelling salesmen to show up and blasting them off their property with shotguns but when Walter convinces them to get a clay pigeon shooting machine, they start to splash out a bit - hence the 'secondhand lion', which they initially buy intending to shoot but Walter adopts it as a pet when it turns out to be old and pathetic. (The boy and his lion will later form his cartoon strip 'Walter and Jasmine - a blatant Calvin and Hobbes rip-off, illustrated by Bloom County's Berkley Breathed).

Meanwhile, Walter uncovers a mysterious photograph of an exotic-looking lady named Jasmine and Crazy Uncle Caine begins to tell him stories – in flashback - of the two men's exploits in Africa, in which Duvall (played by Christian Kane from TV’s Angel) is a swashbuckling hero...

Osment No Culkin

Caine and Duvall are great together and are clearly having a whale of a time as the two crazy uncles. As for Caine’s accent, it’s nowhere near as bad as his Cider House Rules atrocity (“Goodnight, you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England!”) and to be honest, it barely registers. Haley Joel Osment is very good too – on the strength of this he may avoid Macauley Culkin Syndrome and end up with some decent teen parts. The casting directors also deserve some praise because Osment and Josh Lucas have oddly similar eyes.

The Africa flashbacks are a lot of fun - Kane is great as Young Duvall - and the film has a lot of fun with 'alternate versions' of their heroics. Duvall also has a great speech when he takes on a gang of 'punk' teenagers in a bar (the whole sequence is a definite highlight) and there are several similar moments that make the film very enjoyable.

As a film aimed more or less at young boys, Secondhand Lions carries a decent, understated message about growing up in an imperfect world and the importance of honour and valour. A shame, then, that the ending decides to ladle on an extra scoop of sentimentality (and bad acting from a child extra) right at the very end.

That said, it’s a sweet, enjoyable movie, that’s worth seeing for Caine and Duvall and better than a lot of other movies aimed at children. Stick around for Breathed’s animated credits sequence at the end, too.

Film Trailer

Secondhand Lions (PG)
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Content updated: 19/10/2017 08:19

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