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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
Wendall Baker's dog, Junior, is played by Brother, Luke Wilson's dog. On the DVD commentary Wilson claims that no one thought Brother was up to the part but that he always believed Brother could do it. See more »
[Neil is spoofing Wendell Baker in front of McTeague]
"Thank you very much for this job. It's my first job in the hotel buisness
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In his writing and directing debut, Luke Wilson plays Wendell Baker, a laid-back loser who decides to start a new life after being released on parole from prison. He gets a job at an old people's retirement home led by the shady head nurse Neil King (Owen Wilson) and his assistant McTeague (Eddie Griffin) who keep shamelessly embezzling the inhabitants' meager income. With a few spirited residents, Wendell starts an operation to put an end to King's schemes and to win back the heart of his old girlfriend Doreen (Eva Mendes).
There are many attempts at good jokes in the movie, but sadly the Wilsons' lack of directing experience is glaringly obvious. The different plot lines are very clunkily connected and don't feel like they belong in the same movie at all. The Wendell character's change of nature during his prison time is not very convincing and even if it was, his relationship with the responsible Doreen never rings true. In a lighthearted comedy it wouldn't necessarily matter, but since the Doreen plot line (involving Will Ferrell as her new boyfriend) is the most serious one in the movie, it only feels awkward and out of place.
The King and McTeague characters look like they belong in a dark comedy, while Wendell and his elderly friends' trip to the farm of King's mother would be closer to a cheeky road trip movie. The trip sequence is the one that works the best in any case, thanks to the charismatic supporting actors Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel as the ever-virile Skip and Boyd who keep stealing the show from the bland Wilson. Kris Kristofferson is wasted in a small role though; I wish that the movie had spent more time with the old folks anyway instead of trying to fit so many different story lines in one tale.
It looks like the script was a little too far-reaching for the first-time directors, as now the movie doesn't seem to know if it wants to be more of a drama or comedy; the elements and plot lines just don't mix well into a successful dramedy either. Even though I did enjoy the setting in the Southern USA and some of the constantly playing country songs on the soundtrack, over all I cannot really call the film good at all. Perhaps with more writing and directing experience the Wilsons can eventually produce a more streamlined effort, but as it is now, The Wendell Baker Story remains clumsy and artificial.
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