“Ride the Eagle” – Flying but not soaring [MOVIE REVIEW]

Jake Johnson as Leif in "Ride the Eagle." Photo courtesy of DECAL.

Jake Johnson as Leif in “Ride the Eagle.” Photo courtesy of DECAL.

“Ride the Eagle” has inspired me to come up with four critical review categories: Good, not good; Bad, not bad.  “Ride the Eagle” falls under the “not bad” category. It would always have had difficulties transcending that category because the “man-child being forced to grow up or inheriting something of value by following a treasure hunt-style list” has become a trope. It’s certainly been done worse, but it’s been done a whole lot better, also. Albert Brooks made a career out of such subjects. Seth Rogan is an ace at playing those characters. So Jake Johnson, both as co-writer and star of the film, was already behind the eight ball. Lucky for him, he exudes sympathy, and unlike the aforementioned actor/writers, his character is not a jerk, just mildly lost.

On an ordinary day, Leif (Johnson) is awakened by Missy, a vaguely remembered figure from his childhood. Missy, a friend of his mother Honey, from their days at a religious cult, has arrived with the news that his mother has passed away and has bequeathed him her cabin in Yosemite provided he fulfils specific wishes she has written down. The cabin is a “conditional inheritance” and he must go there to discover what to do.

Living a marginal existence as the oldest member (he’s probably an antiquated 40) of a band on the cusp of success, he asks for leave to attend to personal matters and heads north to the cabin. Cabin hardly describes this summer home on a lake. He finds the lists left for him, as well as a video tape of his mother speaking directly to him as though she were still alive. She expresses regret at having been a bad mother, which is putting it mildly. She abandoned him to her own whims when he was eight and feels that, although they never reconciled, she still has guidance to give him. Following her requests, she felt, would send him on the way to being a better man.

Susan Sarandon as Honey in “Ride the Eagle.” Photo courtesy of DECAL.

The requests/demands range from catching a fish with his hands to reconnecting with “the one who got away.” Accompanying Leif on this voyage to “better adulthood” is a pleasant enough trip. And therein lies the reason for a rating of “not bad.” Leif is a sympathetic man who, like so many, is still unclear as to his path. Like us, at the end, his path is still rather unclear but it was a nice way to spend some time. Sort of nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Trent O’Donnell, the director and co-writer, is, like Jake Johnson, a product of episodic comedy. That is not a criticism, per se, it’s just that depth of character and situation are almost entirely lacking. None of us is that much better off than when the film started but we were marginally entertained and no one was harmed in the making of this film.

The slightness of the plot benefits greatly from the cast. Jake Johnson has created a starring role for himself that is a showcase. The sympathy he exudes almost transcends the shallowness of the plot.

D’Arcy Carden is a stand out as “the one who got away.” J.K. Simmons has a brief role as the deranged ex-lover of Honey, making the most of his limited time on screen to display an array of emotions and then disappear. Susan Sarandon as Honey, seen only on videotape, is, well, Susan Sarandon. Anyone could have played this role but what a coup to get Susan Sarandon who could read the phone book (remember those?) and make it interesting. She also makes you forget that Honey was a truly horrible person who abandoned her only child to follow a narcissistic path. Luis Fernandez-Gil, as Leif’s band manager, is hilarious in his two brief scenes. And finally there is Cleo King, that fabulous comedic actor who can enter a scene, deliver a line, disappear and never be forgotten. Perhaps most recognizable as Mike’s partner in “Mike & Molly,” her 98 film and television credits span decades. Opening the movie with her gave the film more currency than it might otherwise have deserved.

Opening July 30 at the Laemmle Monica, On Demand, and on Digital platforms

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