The Boys Are Back

Film
2 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars
Dir. Scott Hicks. 2009. PG-13. 104mins. Clive Owen, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty.

There are certainly worse things than watching Clive Owen work his way through a nearly two-hour mourner’s montage. As widowed Australia-residing sportswriter Joe Warr—who’s raising his two sons, Harry (MacKay) and Artie (McAnulty), alone after the death of his second wife, Katy (Laura Fraser)—the actor uses his stubbly Brit masculinity to deepen the story’s easy sentiment. He’s like a walking five o’clock shadow that Brillo-scrubs your tear ducts.

Owen brings insight and honesty to this otherwise by-the-numbers adaptation of Simon Carr’s memoir, which director Scott Hicks (Shine) bathes in shimmering golden tones as if the characters lived at the end of the rainbow. It’s Neverland, more likely, considering Warr’s Lost Boys method of child rearing, which has him adopting a “just say yes” policy to his sons’ every whim.

Owen completely sells the moment when this harried newspaperman transforms from taskmaster to enabler: Artie stands precariously on a ledge above a bathtub, begging to do a screeching cannonball, and Warr, grinning ear to ear, offers an impulsively wholehearted affirmative. Anyone who’s been brought to their knees by a wayward youngster is sure to bask in this moment’s blissful sense of release—it’s as if Daddy Dearest has just fully translated the Rosetta Stone of parenthood.

Sad, then, that the bathtub mostly begets bathos. There’s little that can be done with material wrung of its complications to accommodate an ultimately life-affirming, it-all-works-out agenda. Only some select scenes with Warr’s mother-in-law, Barbara (the wonderful Julia Blake), live up to Owen’s praiseworthy example. Otherwise, it’s Dr. Spock by way of Dr. Phil.—Keith Uhlich

Opens Fri.

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