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All in the family

Movies | Deadpan routine returns in The Wendell Baker Story

Issue: "Ideal Idol," June 2, 2007

The Wendell Baker Story (rated PG-13 for sexual situations and language) is the sort of movie that Luke and Owen Wilson made before they were big film stars.

Youngest brother Luke stars as Wendell Baker, a naïve ex-con trying to get back his ex-girlfriend Doreen (Eva Mendes). Owen plays a nurse running a Medicare fraud at a Texas retirement hotel where Wendell works after his release from prison. A third Wilson brother, Andrew, teams with Luke for the film's direction.

It's the sort of amiable comedy that fans of the Wilson brothers have come to enjoy-except that this time, Wes Anderson isn't involved. Anderson directed Bottle Rocket, the 1996 film that launched both Owen and Luke's careers. He also directed them in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. But even without Anderson, the stone-faced deadpan of Luke Wilson produces more than enough giggles to make the film worthwhile to fans.

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That's possible because veteran Anderson cohorts like the Wilsons and Seymour Cassel (who stars as one of the retirement hotel's residents) could sleepwalk through the typical Wilson brothers' deadpan routine. In one scene, Doreen tells Wendell that she's lucky to have him, hoping Wendell will reciprocate. But Baker, oblivious to his girl's desire to feel loved, simply turns toward her, smacking on a cigarillo, and informs her, "Yeah, I mean, I'm not exactly a consolation prize."

The film pivots on this relationship: As soon as he loses Doreen to a grocery store owner played by Will Ferrel, Baker enlists the help of three geriatrics at the hotel in a comedic attempt to win her heart back. But while the spirit is there for the Wilsons, they struggle to tie up loose plotlines near the end. The Wendell Baker Story probably needed just one more element: Wes Anderson at the helm.

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