Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn in Land Ho! (Andrew Reed/Sony Pictures Classics)
For years, older movie-goers have complained of being frozen out by Hollywood’s development cycle. As studios cranked out action spectacles aimed at the 25-and-under set, boomers felt a dearth in material tailored to their tastes. Recently, however, the industry has received the memo, promoting a string of releases featuring characters entering their autumn years while living life to the fullest. After 2011’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel set the box office on fire, the market seems primed for a new movie to capitalize on this retiree resurgence.
Enter Land Ho!, a buddy comedy following a pair of retirees who embark on a Scandinavian road trip in an effort to recapture their youth. Southern good old boy Mitch invites conservative Colin, his Australian ex-brother-in law, over to his house for a reunion, where they rekindle their friendship over dinner and frank conversation. When Mitch asks Colin to accompany him on an impromptu trip to Iceland, the reserved bank manager decides to cut loose and go along. What follows is a romp from the trendy nightlife of Reykjavík to the natural splendor of the highlands, punctuated by numerous whimsical excursions that forge the bond between old friends venturing out into a new world.
If the plot description above seems thin, that’s because it is. This is a film that values characters over story and developing relationships over forward action. While the leads do have a lively repartee atypical to these older-skewing vehicles, their lack of formality is supplanted by a edgy energy so incongruous that it might make younger viewers wonder if it has any root in reality.
Pictures like Marigold Hotel are for older folks, by older folks, but Land Ho! was conceived by neophytes Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, two whippersnappers fresh out of their master’s programs. As such, the film often plays like a Williamsburg mumblecore that features a couple of old dudes instead of a crew of mustachioed 20-somethings.
Adding to the disconnect is a jarring streak of blue humor – likely a product of executive producer and “Eastbound and Down” director/consulting producer David Gordon Green – which often imbues the dialogue with an off-putting nastiness. Mitch, played with dull hamfistedness by non-actor (and relative of director Stephens) Earl Lynn Nelson, espouses the glory of the female anatomy with the gleeful grossness of a frat-boy freshman, a peccadillo which takes a distasteful turn when he and Colin meet up with his much-younger cousin Ellen, whom he lavishes with lascivious “compliments” loaded with incestuous connotations. This interlude feels like a bad episode of “Girls,” complete with wooden performances from the actresses playing Ellen and her friend Janet (Karrie Crouse and Elizabeth McKee, respectively), and sets the stage for what proves to be a dull slog of a second act.
Despite these flaws, the film does manage to rebound near the end, when the guys arrive at a ritzy spa known as the Blue Lagoon. There, Colin falls for a Canadian photographer, played with subtlety by newcomer Alice Olivia Clarke, and the two share a brief, tender fling. That this portion of the movie works is a testament to the soulful effort Aussie thespian Paul Eenhoorn gives in the role of Colin.
The other highlight here is the natural beauty of Iceland’s glacial lakes, waterfalls and geysers, all elegantly captured by cinematographer Andrew Reed. In addition, the jaunty New Wave-influenced score adds some panache to the proceedings. Overall, Land Ho! is a pleasant but inauthentic film, which ultimately bogs itself down with a bifurcated focus and a confused sense of tone.
Sony Pictures Classics
Currently in select theaters
Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).