Judge Roy Hrab knows little about the hospitality industry, but he knows enough not to make a reservation at a hotel that has Luke and Owen Wilson on staff.
Why Not Call Him A Hero?
This film is brought to you by the Wilson family. The Wendell Baker Story was co-directed by Andrew (Bottle Rocket) and Luke Wilson (Old School), written and co-produced by Luke, and stars Luke and Owen (Shanghai Noon). It played for a few film festivals in 2005 before getting a limited released in the United States in 2007, followed quickly by the DVD release. There is a good reason for this. While The Wendell Baker Story is not a bad movie, it is not a memorable one either. It's like an after-dinner mint: quickly consumed and just as quickly forgotten.
Facts of the Case
Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) sells fake driver's licenses to illegal immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border. He's a goodhearted underachiever who dreams of great success. It's not likely to happen, especially after he is thrown in jail for his license scam. When Wendell gets out, he decides to turn his life around by entering the hospitality industry, and gets a job working at the Shady Grove retirement hotel, run by an iniquitous head nurse, Neil King (Owen Wilson). At the same time, Wendell discovers that his girlfriend Doreen (Eva Mendes, Hitch) has left him for another man (Will Ferrell, Zoolander).
What is The Wendell Baker Story about? Well, early on it seems to be a slacker's coming-of-age tale, but then it turns into a strange tribute to senior citizens before concluding suddenly as a mound of schmaltzy goo. So, as you can tell, the story is not the strong point.
What about the characters? Well, there are certainly a lot of off-the-wall personalities on display here, showing the influence that Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) has had on Luke Wilson. We have the eternal optimist Wendell; his exasperated girlfriend Doreen; his best friend Reyes (Jacob Vargas, Jarhead); the wicked Neil and his sidekick McTeague (Eddie Griffin, Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo); two ornery old men, Boyd (Seymour Cassel, Rushmore) and Skip (Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man); and a geriatric recluse, Nasher (Kris Kristofferson, Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid).
However, a collection of loosely connected scenes featuring a host of eccentric, but paper-thin, characters does not necessarily make a compelling movie (and I must admit that I am not a Wes Anderson enthusiast). That's the problem here. There are a number of funny lines and situations (especially those featuring Ferrell), but they don't build up to anything.
The performances are adequate for the most part. Luke plays the laid-back slacker pretty well, although Owen, who plays the "bad guy" instead, could have easily played the title role. Cassel, Stanton, and Kristofferson make the most of their limited roles as a trio of old coots. Will Ferrell also scores points as a decent grocery clerk with a mean streak. Mendes isn't required to do much except look wistful.
Technically, the film is adequate. This is a low-budget picture, so don't expect blockbuster production values. The video transfer doesn't have any major problems, but the colors aren't the brightest you've ever seen. The audio is fine. The dialogue and the film's easygoing soundtrack are clear.
There are a surprising number of extras, however, like the movie, none are particularly memorable. The most interesting is the featurette "Afternoon At Luke's With Harry Dean Stanton And Seymour Cassel," which features Cassel, Stanton, and Luke and Andrew Wilson in conversation. The Wilsons question the old timers about their careers, and then things get weird when Stanton starts talking about his philosophy of life. The second featurette is a standard "Making of" featurette. Up next are deleted scenes. Some are interesting, some are not, but none of scenes make the picture a more focused piece. There is also a "Special Musical Performance By Billy Joe Shaver," singing his song "Live Forever"; I don't know what makes it special because it is just a stationary video of Shaver leaning against a tree while singing and playing a guitar. Also, there is a commentary by Luke and, according to the DVD case, Andrew Wilson. However, I don't recall Andrew saying anything for the duration of the commentary. Luke doesn't sound particularly enthusiastic or interested in the commentary he gives, providing little insight. A slideshow of stills, the theatrical trailer, and a trailer gallery round out the extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you like the work of Wes Anderson you'll probably enjoy this film more than most audiences.
The Wendell Baker Story is a slight, light, harmless comedy. It is so fluffy that you'll be hard-pressed to recall anything particularly memorable even moments after viewing the film. This is not to say that it is without charm, but there's very little going on here. If you're looking to kill some time, you might want to consider giving it a look.
Guilty of lacking cohesion and an engaging story.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary By Luke and Andrew Wilson
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