Movie Reviewed by Glen C. Griffin

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Secondhand Lions is a tall tale. For example, only one secondhand lion (of the kind that lives in a jungle) appears in the movie. The title, with some mental stretching, probably refers to the two eccentric, old-goat great-uncles played by Michael Caine and Robert Duvall, who find their lives invaded by a kid named Walter who has been dumped with them by his floozy mother. Walter is abandoned and lied to by his mother. which is painful to watch. The entire scenario makes one worry how much kids who watch this movie, especially those in single-parent families or in other difficult situations, may have concerns about their own security.

Besides being a witch, Walter’s mother has other reasons for parking her son with these great uncles while she runs off with another in an apparent parade of loser boyfriends. The word is out that these two old codgers have millions of dollars stashed away–and as she leaves Walter with them, she gives him instructions to find the loot so she can cash in. She’s not the only one who wants to get in on the guys’ alleged fortune. The last thing these curmudgeons want is a kid hanging around–let alone the responsibility for him. And it becomes painfully obvious they don’t know much about kids.

The sometimes-amusing antics of the uncles sometimes are not quite so amusing as they load their shotguns when unwanted salesmen show up. None of the salesmen, or others who get in the way of the old uncles, get killed, but firing weapons and fighting with knives isn’t something anyone wants kids to imitate. Surprisingly, there are some tender moments amidst all the fighting and rejection. But parents can use many of the situations that happen in this story as teaching moments, asking how they would have solved the problems. Kids seeing this film could also use some coaching about using good language instead of the vulgar expressions and so-called “mild profanity.” Besides the adventures on the uncles’ Texas ranch, the story flashes back into tall tales about the uncles in their young, adventuresome years. These real or imagined escapades are filled with swordfights and mini-dramas within the main comedy-drama. With these many flashbacks, kids may have a problem keeping track of continuity. But then, those conditioned on today’s wild adventures may follow the story better than some of the rest of us. Just don’t blink.

As the film winds down, besides the mother’s abuse in abandoning Walter and lying to him, another unpleasant twist pops up that in today’s world would be considered criminal child abuse. And even though the mom’s boyfriend gets some retribution, to put it mildly, for physically abusing Walter, he gets away without anyone mentioning that he should be locked up for a long time. When it looks like a predictably terrible outcome, the situation changes–along with an unexpected surprise that pulls many of the ragtag parts of the story together. Will this movie get CAMIE awards for Character And Morality In Entertainment? Probably not, even though there’s no obvious immorality, which is a big plus these days. The uncles and the kid do come up with some lines that show character, common sense and values. Another plus. But as entertaining as this story might be, Secondhand Lions isn’t quite as uplifting as films are that get CAMIE awards.

Director: Tim McCanlies
Written By: Tim McCanlies
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Kyra Sedgwick
Producer: David Kirschner
Year: 2003
Length: 1 ho
ur, 45 minutes

2003 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.