Directors: Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz
Stars: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson
4 (out of 5) Globes
Is “Land Ho!” an indie with mainstream aspirations or a mainstream film with indie aspirations? The cast and crew might suggest the former: Directors Martha Stephens (“Passenger Pigeons”) and Aaron Katz (“Cold Weather”) have worked with micro-budgets. The stars are a true odd couple, in more senses of the word than one: Paul Eenhoorn received breakthrough reviews later in his life for the little-seen but fantastic “This is Martin Bonner,” while Earl Lynn Nelson is a surgeon who’s only acted in films by Stephens, a relation.
And yet the material is very populist. It’s a road trip movie wed to a geezers-on-the-prowl movie. Ex-brothers-in-law Colin (Eenhoorn) and Mitch (Nelson) have stayed in touch, even though neither is married to the people they were with when they met. Colin is sad-eyed, reserved; Mitch is a force of life who loves food, drinks, joints, people and talking — endless talking. Mitch decides to drag Colin to Iceland to knock the depression out of him in between eating, boozing and some carousing.
You’ve seen “Land Ho!” before, despite the particulars. It’s a crowd-pleaser, even at times cliched. But it’s cliched in a way that embraces the cliches; it doesn’t fall into them by rote or for cynical reasons. Colin is bound to find romance, even if that’s delayed to the point where we wonder for a stretch whether it will ever happen at all. And the two will finally, on cue, get at each other’s wit’s end, even though the split will be shorter and less severe than in most movies of its type.
In fact, “Land Ho!” isn’t all that mainstream, even if Stephens and Katz — again, two filmmakers who’ve worked with the tiniest budgets imaginable — blast “In a Big Country” not once but twice. There’s less narrative drive than in most films of its type, which is a good thing. It really is a vacation, with our heroes open for drama, but not in any hurry to find it.Stephens and Katz allow them the space to gab in long chatty scenes, even as the camera (the Red One, the digital one whose footage really looks like film) is soaking up the bold, warm colors of the environs.
It’s also another kind of film: the one that makes stars out of unlikely actors. Eenhoorn, as in “This is Martin Bonner,” is reserved yet slyly playful and bottomlessly decent. He’s both a good, meek foil for his outsized screen partner and someone you can actually imagine being his good friend without it seeming sitcom-y. Nelson, with his booming Kentucky twang, is a natural who doesn’t appear to be acting, except maybe to rein his enormous personality in just enough that it doesn’t burst out of the frames.
“Land Ho!” may belong to the same phylum as “Last Vegas,” but it lacks the condescension and easy jokes. There’s melancholy and life regrets, but they run underneath. They have a spark in them because age never really takes that away. Without making a meal out of it or getting remotely sentimental, “Land Ho!” reminds one that people remain people till the day they die.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge