REVIEW: “Lean on Pete”

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It’s no revelation that movie trailers can sometimes (either intentionally or not) be misleading. Look to “Lean on Pete” as one of the more recent examples. For those unfamiliar with the 2010 Willy Vlautin novel of the same name, the trailer would have you expecting a gentile and sentimental ‘boy and his horse’ story. While most certainly moving, don’t expect “Lean on Pete” to fall into the “Black Stallion” category.

Writer and director Andrew Haigh (“45 Years”) has made a biting, tough-minded adaptation that still has a ton of heart. Practically all of that heart is found in the central character, a timid and reserved 15-year-old boy named Charley. He’s played by a Charlie Plummer who gives a phenomenal breakthrough performance. It truly is the key performance in the film as Charley is in every frame. Plummer is strikingly authentic in a role that could have easily gone too sentimental. It’s one of my favorite performances of the year.

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Charley lives in low-income Portland, Oregon with his deadbeat but sometimes good-hearted father Ray (Travis Fimmel). Despite his father’s dysfunction you can see Charley’s adoration for him. Charley is a genuinely good kid and surprisingly lighthearted considering the cruddy hands he has been dealt. He crosses paths with a cantankerous horse trainer Del (Steve Buscemi) who hires him as a gopher and stablehand. The job puts a little money in Charley’s pocket and introduces him to a beautiful but worn down quarter horse named Lean on Pete.

Charley begins to form a bond with Lean on Pete even though he’s cautioned by Del’s part-time jockey (played by a very good ChloĂ« Sevigny) “He’s not a pet. He’s just a horse.” But Charley sees him as more than that, perhaps even a kindred spirit. I won’t reveal much more but it’s here that the movie’s meaning becomes clearer. It’s a story of a boy yearning for stability and desperate to find some sense of home. It’s a bleak coming-of-age tale full of unflinching socioeconomic subtext with a rather cynical look at the “American Dream”.

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Charley’s personal journey leads him to cross paths with a number of different people. Sticking with the running theme of working class hardship and poverty, nearly everyone he meets are stuck in their circumstances and compassion can be both precious and rare. Haigh skillfully manages these themes never allowing theme to dribble over into sentimentality or false optimism. At the same time it has been a while since I haven’t rooted for a character as hard a I did for Charley.

“Lean on Pete” is a tough watch and sometimes our lone refuge lies in the picturesque landscapes of cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck. One of the year’s most heart-wrenching scenes is in a quiet moment where a worn and hungry Charley stares into a bathroom mirror. He reaches down and takes his belt in another notch. It’s a scene loaded with illumination and emotion. There are several instances where Haigh smartly leans on quietness and the stellar talents of young Plummer. It’s a key reason his film is so effective.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

REVIEW: “The Ridiculous 6”

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Adam Sandler is an living, breathing enigma. He started as a young, fairly entertaining comedian on Saturday Night Live who eventually put out a couple of fairly entertaining movies. Since then has put out one painfully awful film after another. A quick gander at his embarrassingly bad filmography should leave you wondering how this guy is still making movies. Here is why he is an enigma – his movies make a lot of money. People go see his stuff and many find it funny. That is a mystery I may never be able to crack.

Sandler’s latest is the western spoof “The Ridiculous 6” and you have to give the guy this – he’s consistent. This has every bit of the stupidity, annoyances, and laziness identified with Sandler’s previous ‘comedies’. The Wild West offers a new setting but Sandler and company do nothing more than stain it with their brand of asininity. I only managed a few grins in this entire dopey and overly long slog.

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Sandler plays Tommy who has been raised by the Apache after the murder of his mother. Tommy is given the name “White Knife” and is set to marry Smoking Fox (Julia Jones). A man named Frank Stockburn (Nick Nolte) arrives at the village claiming to be Tommy’s father. He reveals he is terminally ill and that he has $50,000 buried nearby. He wants Tommy and his village to have the money but before they can dig it up bandits arrive and take Frank away because of an outstanding debt. Tommy can’t find the buried loot so he sets out t0 swipe $50,000 in order to save his father.

Along the way Tommy finds that his father has been….active. He meets five different men claiming that Frank Stockburn is the father they have never met. They each join Tommy in his absurd quest to find enough money to pay off his father’s captives. Of course each have their on goofy quirk. Rob Schneider plays a Mexican with a gassy burro (it’s just as offensive as it sounds). Taylor Lautner is a village idiot with a strong neck. Terry Crews is a piano player who hides that he is black. Jorge Garcia is a hairy mute wildman. Luke Wilson is a guilt-ridden boozer.

Then there is the laundry list of cameos and brief appearances which Sandler movies are known for. Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Blake Shelton, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Will Forte, Vanilla Ice, Chris Kattan, and John Turturro to name a few. Occasionally one of these will offer a mildly amusing moment, but most are just wedged in as a recognizable face. Why some of these guys signed on for such dumb roles and lame material is beyond me.

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“The Ridiculous 6” is supposedly a satire of the western genre and all of the formulas and stereotypes they often used. I tend to give movies a lot of leeway and feel some people are often too easily offended. But this film doesn’t have the smarts to sell itself as convincing satire and it’s no wonder some have viewed the characterizations as offensive. When material is this poor it’s hard to accept it as good satire.

Ultimately “The Ridiculous 6” is more of the same from a guy perfectly content with delivering cheap overused gags and the same boring, unfunny formulas. I suppose Sandler is happy cashing the big checks and as long as people still flock to these things I don’t see him challenging himself or changing directions. So we can expect more films like “The Ridiculous 6” – juvenile, aimless, and consistently idiotic wastes of time. Lucky us.

VERDICT – 1.5 STARS

1.5 stars