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Donal Lardner Ward
Donal Lardner Ward,
Near the Texas-Mexico border, Wendell Baker has a few things going for him: his genial nature and optimism and the love of Doreen. His troubles? He dances around telling her that he loves her, and his idea of work is illegal. He's arrested, imprisoned, and she puts him behind her when she realizes that even prison is just a good excuse for him to play football with the guys. When he is paroled, it's to a job in the "hotel industry" at a board and care home for seniors, where the head nurse is running a scam. Three of the residents respond to Wendell's good heart. Can they expose the scam and help Wendell win back Doreen? Written by
As played by Luke Wilson, Wendell Baker is the kind of character authors like to refer to as a "lovable rogue" - a smooth-talking scam artist with a tongue as nimble as the pen of a scribe (to borrow a phrase from scripture, if I may be so bold). The trouble is that a good-hearted guy can run afoul of the law for only so long before he risks losing the woman he loves (Eva Mendes) and before he is finally forced into taking a long, hard look at his life. Thus, once he's paroled from prison, Wendell decides to go straight by taking a job at a retirement home (he's been duped into believing that this is a first step on the road to a career in hotel management) run by a sadistic administrator (Owen Wilson) and his toadying staff. There's a little of the feel of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," as the con man leads the put-upon inmates of the "asylum" in a well-coordinated rebellion against their oppressors.
The chief attraction of "The Wendell Baker Story" is the opportunity it affords us of seeing the Wilson brothers appearing together in the same movie - and what a treat it turns out to be. Luke has written a script filled with the kind of dry, wry wit that has been the hallmark of both of their performances over the years, and their scenes together crackle with understated cynicism and humor (Luke co-directed the feature with yet another brother, Andrew, making this a family affair in the fullest sense of the term). The movie is also blessed with an amazing team of supporting players, including Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel as spry oldsters who find a supportive helpmate in Wendell Baker; Kris Kristofferson as a mysterious, stoic resident who is harboring a carefully guarded secret about his past; Will Ferrell as the grocery store owner who is Wendell's chief rival for his now ex-girlfriend's affections; and Eddie Griffin who serves as chief henchman for the home's scalawag of a director.
Their performances and the laidback tone of the humor compensate for the occasional dry spots and the fact that the movie itself doesn't really add up to all that much when all is said and done.
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