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The Wendell Baker Story (2005)
a good laugh and an easy watch
The Wendell Baker Story will never be listed as movie classic. It will not score at acting awards, and it does have a profound message. That said, it manages to entertain, make us laugh and smile, and provide through enjoyment without insulting our intelligence, and without resorting to endless car chases, fire crashes, or silly special effects.
What we have here is old-fashioned movie entertainment solid acting, an engaging story, and all of the basics done solidly: costuming, direction, lighting, editing, and, especially, music.
Both Luke and Owen Wilson are more than competent in their respective roles as a light-weight con man and a conspiring old home administrator/head nurse. Indeed, I saw a little more acting talent here than in Owen Wilson's other recent attempts, such as Behind Enemy Lines.
While Owen and Luke's name may be at the head of the credits (along with their brother Andrew, who is the film's Director), the best performances come from Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassell, who play playful, but sincere and believable residents of the old age home where Luke Wilson's character works, and which Owen Wilson's character runs. Alas, the same cannot be said for the legend Kris Kristofferson, whose roll comes off as predictable and trite, with the same artificial "I am wise and serene" facial expression done far too many times.
The story is easy enough. Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) spends his time scheming his next (read first) fortune, planning all kinds of shady and illegal schemes. Baker and his friend (played by Jacob Vargas) get caught providing fake Texas identifications to illegal immigrant farm workers. He ends up in a federal jail in Texas, where he gets along well and does not seem to miss his girlfriend, played by Eva Mendes.
Baker is eventually paroled, and ordered to work at a "retirement hotel." While little happens at the retirement place, Baker does not learn of an ongoing to scheme to ship seniors to Oklahoma, so that the administrators can collect their pension checks and sell their medicines on the black market. OK, so it is not Shakespeare. It is light, it moves at a good pace, and Wendell becomes more and more liked by the audience.
If one looks, there are messages to be had. We are reminded that senior citizens have passions and sex drives, that the people pouring across the border from Mexico largely just want to work and get by, and that all of us deserve a second chance. Bets of all, we learn this by being happily entertained by a fun, easy-going movie.