It's a testament to the Wilson brothers' laconic Texas charm that they manage to make being clumsy, cornball, precious, and vaguely hopeless seem like borderline winning qualities in The Wendell Baker Story, Luke and Andrew Wilson's directorial debut. After more than a decade of playing affable dopes and handsome boyfriends, Luke delivers a meandering comedy for stoners who find the relentless pace and ruthlessly efficient storytelling of the usual Owen Wilson quirkfest oppressive.
Luke channels the rakish motormouth charm of his more bankable older brother as the title character, a big-hearted dreamer who acts as if his heart will stop beating the moment he stops talking. After a prison stint, Luke lands a job at a retirement hotel, where he matches wits with evil head nurse Owen and tries to win back ex-girlfriend Eva Mendes from boyfriend Will Ferrell. Seymour Cassell co-stars as the ringleader of the codgers, an old man so adorable he's practically a Muppet. Cassell plays the kind of irascible old coot Abe Simpson writes angry letters about, a youthful wisenheimer who chases young gals and is always up for mischief.
Owen's sinister variation on his well-worn persona is funny and loose, but also surprisingly creepy, particularly during a scene where he pops pills and reveals the rough outline of his dark life to Luke in a druggy haze. Baker has the curious quality of being simultaneously too nice and too mean. It alternates between celebrating the vivacity, gumption, and loveability of the geriatric set, and engaging in brittle, mean-spirited comedy where Owen and sidekick Eddie Griffin verbally abuse their elders. Mendes, meanwhile, is a black hole at the center of the film. She delivers a painfully amateurish performance in a cutting-room-floor-ready love story that plays like a public-access version of the disarmingly sweet romance in Bottle Rocket. It's easy to see why the shaggy, slight Baker was barely released theatrically, in spite of its cast's pedigree. But Luke shows enough promise to justify giving him a shot at making another good-natured mess of a movie.
Key features: An unedifying commentary from Andrew and Luke and an amusingly cantankerous extended interview with Cassell and Harry Dean Stanton, along with a stock behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted scenes.