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Secondhand Lions | Review

The Old Fashion Way

African love stories and stolen treasures aren’t enough for coming-of-age tale that tries too hard to be liked.

Considered to be the number one of the top ten best scripts never made into a movie, this piece was sitting at the bottom of a pile so stacked up with paper that it never even had the chance to collect dust. Accurately enough, this fact sounds exactly like the premise of this feel-good feature about hidden personalities that open up like treasure chests to reveal the legendary unaccounted for stashes of money and the true personalities of a couple of old fogies.

Oozing with sentimentality this Disney-like picture is packed with funny family moments, but at one point we wonder whether the charm is authentic or if it feels forced. Director Tim McCanlies uses a collection of various cute shots of a pint-sized quartet of man’s best friend complimented by the rest of Noah’s ark to go along with sequences that show two grandpa-aged men firing off gunshots over suspecting trespassers and all this is harmonized with a schmaltzy film score that stenches of goodness throughout. Secondhand Lions is inspired by this “ways of the past” motto, a quality which is felt in McCanlies’ other screenplay of The Iron Giant. With a cast of characters which are so caricatured, this film comes off a little weak such as the mother and son relationship which shows Kyra Sedgwick (Personal Velocity) in a role which is a little to extreme to be believable and comes off looking like the character of Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations. Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: AI gives a half performance perhaps it is that awkward stage in his life where his perfect frozen looks that we got used to with a couple of excellent roles aren’t blending as well in his approaching adulthood. Set in the 50’s, this “how I spent my summer” tale is not only about used up souls rusting away on the porch but about the wicked versus the good in the heart which is underlined by these flashbacks of the duo’s formidable years abroad. Its always pleasant to see what Caine and Duvall are up to in their lengthy film careers, except that I prefer them in The Apostle or The Quiet American and not this forced charming little number where they are shown to look mean or are put up in these funny hat and custom combinations that reveal very little.

McCanlies nurtures this picture with all the possible gimmickry of sappiness and with the kind of premise which is about building up trust where the old learn from the new and vice-versa which makes for some uninspiring viewing. Even less convincing is Osment who tries a little too hard to capitalize every scene with this ‘awe’ in awestruck kind of performance which gets annoying in mid-film. I also had trouble with the creepy look he gives for a young child sabotaged by his voice breaking out numerous times. In addition, the flashbacks aren’t as exciting as first appear to be and quickly lose the Indian Jones appeal for a goofy Goonies like feel.

Even if there are so frightful scenes (what was the evil stepfather punching his son in the gut?) those who have an appreciation for family film will find there money’s worth with this piece, but the half performances, the misuse of two great actors and the film’s predicable recipe makes Secondhand Lions an easy film to skip.

Rating 1.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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