Secondhand Lions

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Secondhand Lions

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Secondhand Lions

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Some child actors aren't lucky when it comes time to make that awkward first film since entering puberty. Tatum O'Neal entered her teens with the virginity-loss comedy Little Darlings. Macaulay Culkin teamed with Ted Danson for Getting Even With Dad, then left film for nearly a decade. Much luckier is 15-year-old Haley Joel Osment, who's given no less than Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as co-stars in the sweet lost-boy comedy Secondhand Lions. Set in '50s Texas, the film strands Osment's shy character at a remote Texas country home inhabited by Caine and Duvall, two eccentric uncles who recently resurfaced after spending more than 40 years in parts unknown. Some rumors have them working as bank robbers on the run from Al Capone, other accounts place them in a mental home, but all versions have them possessing a hidden stash of millions of dollars in cash. It's a not entirely pure motive, then, that prompts irresponsible mom Kyra Sedgwick to leave Osment in Caine and Duvall's company, and little wonder that the men don't immediately take to the "sissy boy." Eventually, of course, they come around to the kid's good-natured disposition, and Caine enjoys filling his head with stories of their wild adventures in the Near East, impossible feats that also happen to be backed up by the evidence Osment finds in his new room. Younger actors bring Caine's tales to life in a series of vividly realized, mostly wordless storybook sequences, but the action in the less exotic land of Texas is what makes the film memorable. Writer-director Tim McCanlies works in broad, kid-friendly strokes, and he's not afraid to lay on the sentiment, but his cast makes sure it's well-earned. Similar in tone to My Dog Skip, Secondhand Lions gives its protagonist a lot of gentle help (and a much bigger animal, in the form of a hand-me-down circus lion) in the difficult entry into the adult world, and lets a leisurely pace work in its favor. Played any faster, as in the somewhat awkward opening scenes, and Caine and Duvall would look like stock eccentric codgers. Thankfully, McCanlies gives them breathing room, while Osment lets his newfound gawkiness work in the service of a character who needs help learning how to be comfortable in his own skin. Like the uncles of the story, the film mostly wraps up homespun wisdom in a colorful package, but as Caine persuasively argues, that doesn't mean it's not true.

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