‘Lions’ is predictable story

Hawkins Teague

Every fall, movies come out wanting to be taken seriously, to tug at the heartstrings. Some work and some don’t.

“Secondhand Lions” (HH out of four) mostly falls into the latter category.

“Lions” is about a young teenager named Walter (Haley Joel Osment) whose negligent mother drops him off to stay with his uncles in rural Texas, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine). She tells Walter that she plans to further her education while he’s there, but he knows she’s probably lying to him again.

Of course we all know what will follow. The kid won’t want to stay because there’s nothing for him to do with the old codgers, and the old codgers won’t want him around because they don’t like kids. But they’ll predictably bond and become better people for having spent time with each other.

It’s a standard coming-of-age story that would be a lot worse if Duvall wasn’t fun to watch.

Unfortunately, Caine is badly miscast. He sounds as if he’s about to drop his Texan twang and switch to a cockney accent any moment.

And I fear that Osment may not be as good an actor as he was before he hit puberty. The subtle shadings he brought to “The Sixth Sense” and “A.I.” are missing here, and what we’re left with is a central character who is neither very interesting nor has much complex realness.

For the most part, the movie is supposed to be taken at face value, which is hard to do because the story is weakened by several unbelievable elements.

Perhaps the worst instance occurs when some teenage punks start giving Hub trouble at a diner. The old man beats the living crap out of them all, despite the fact that they pull switchblades on him.

During the course of this, he instructs them on how to fight properly and then takes them out to the house, where they are treated to dinner and a speech on what it means to be a “real man.”

Sometimes the relationship between Walter and his uncles is touching, but for the most part the movie drowns in its mawkish sentimentality. The epilogue, set in present day long after the principal story, is particularly hard to stomach.

Some undemanding families may find the movie easy to take, but the rest of us can pass.

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