Dir/scr: Jordan Roberts.US. 2004. 85mins.

For his directorialdebut, screenwriter Jordan Roberts (who was uncredited for his work on RoadTo Perdition) delivers a small, heartfelt family drama in which four malegenerations make a reluctant road trip through America's Southwest and scalethe rocky emotional terrain of their shared past.

Around The Bend may fail to quite shake the sentimentality of itspremise, but does benefit from strong performances from Michael Caine and,especially, Christopher Walken.

Although universal in itsthemes, this Warner Independent Pictures release is unlikely to generate muchbox-office heat beyond American shores, where after two weeks it has takenaround $60,000 and is playing on 27 screens. Ancillary markets look slightlymore promising.

Thirtysomething Jason Lair(Lucas) was raised by his grandfather Henry (Caine) after his mother died andhis junkie father Turner (Walken) abandoned him. Turner, who has been in prisonsince, not only walked away from his son but also his father: Henry, aneccentric old codger, has never given up hope that Turner will return one day.For his part, the likeable but tense Jason, who has tried to be an exemplaryfather to his own six-year old Zach (Bobo), still bears the scars of hisunhappy childhood.

The prodigal son eventuallyshows up, prompting Henry to pack them all up for a road trip that neitherJason nor Turner want to take. But Henry has an ace up his sleeve: he dies,forcing his son and grandson to try and bury their grievances long enough tofollow the instructions left behind. Zach accompanies them. Resentment, guilt,anger, grief and regret also hitch a ride - and, finally, forgiveness.

Certain characters (Headlyas a Danish nursemaid), plot points (Henry's elaborately concocted scavengerhunt) and dialogue (most noticeably from Zach) drift from genuinely sweetand/or poignant to overly sentimental and manipulative. At one point, Turner,Jason and Zach stand in a row, their backs to the camera, relieving themselvesin the sand.

Composer David Baerwaldcontributes some catchy, tuneful songs, but his incidental music is cloying,veering from overly jaunty to sentimentally sugary.

But what ultimately saves AroundThe Bend is some fine acting. Lucas and Bobo are good but it is Caine and Walkenwho really stand out. Despite an inconsistent American accent, Caine brings agenuine poignancy to his role as a loveable old coot.

Walken, whose rough, pale,wrinkled face resembles a death mask, looks like a man at war with himself: aman who has spent the better part of his life running as far and as fast as hecan from his inner demons, only to find that they follow him everywhere.

Prod co: Kirkham-Lewitt Prods
US dist:
Warner IndependentPictures
Int'l sales:
Exec prod:
Ronald G Smith
Elliott Lewitt, JulieKirkham
Michael Grady
Prod des:
Sarah Knowles
Francoise Bonnot
David Baerwald
Main cast:
Michael Caine,Christopher Walken, Josh Lucas, Jonah Bobo, Glenne Headly