Ride the Eagle (M) - 89 minutes
Jake Johnson (Jurassic World) more often than not singlehandedly carries a quirky comedic drama born of a dysfunctional relationship.
In his early 40s, Leif (Johnson) who lives in a small hut in the mountains, is the bongo player for a band which he is enthusiastic about, whose other members are 20 years younger than him.
Beyond that, his greatest love is his black pet Labrador, Nora.
One day he receives a visit from an old friend of his estranged mother, Honey (Susan Sarandon), carrying the news that she has passed away from cancer.
Further, Honey – who abandoned Leif to join a cult when her son was only 12 – has left him her handsome Yosemite cabin on the proviso that he undertakes a number of tasks.
In short then, it is a conditional inheritance.
The friend, Missy (Cleo King), doesn’t know what these tasks are, but Leif takes a road trip with his dog to the said location.
Once there, he discovers many cupboards jam packed with weed and a videotape alongside some envelopes.
Leif, who – as an adult – rejected his mother’s overtures to try to reconnect, begins watching Honey’s “instructions” from beyond the grave.
Among them is to leave a poisoned (figuratively) note for a neighbour across the lake and to go on a hike before scattering Honey’s ashes in a picturesque setting.
Arguably the most rewarding of these “duties” is reconnecting with an old flame of his, Audrey (D’Arcy Carden), whom he dated for three years and last saw eight years ago.
Although Leif begins his journey with no feelings for his mother, the messages she is imparting in absentia are all about living life to the fullest.
Written by Johnson and Trent O’Donnell, who also directs, the picture is populated by a series of set pieces with humour at their core.
These involve Leif’s two-faced landlord and band manager Gorka (Luis Fernandez-Gil), ex-girlfriend Audrey, Honey’s invective-riddled former lover Carl (JK Simmons) and, of course, his mother.
Even though many of these scenes feel “pushed”, Johnson’s good-natured performance, coupled with the other actors’ ability to capture the moment, does, indeed, add a left of centre feel that lightens the load and lifts the mood.
Throughout, it is Johnson with props that does the lion’s share of the heavy lifting and makes a fair fist of it in naturalistic fashion.
Sarandon makes speaking to camera from in front of a home video look effortless.
Carden is charming, Simmons volatile and Fernandez-Gil suitably self-absorbed.
The visuals by cinematographer Judd Overton capture the splendour of the surrounds.
Incidentally, the title, Ride the Eagle, is drawn from a painting Honey – who was a pretty ordinary artist – created (which, clearly, has a double meaning in the context of Leif’s journey).
The movie is hardly must-see material.
Rather, it is a pleasant enough distraction that, although at times “thin”, has just enough in it to make it largely entertaining, if not entirely convincing.
Rated M, Ride the Eagle scores a 6 out of 10.