On director Mark Pellington’s official MySpace profile, “movies” ominously rank thirteenth on his list of general interests, several spots behind “eating in bed” and “massages”. And though on the same page he cites Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes, among other lofty directors, as his influences, his preference for backrubs over films shows in the cluelessly directed Henry Poole is Here. This is a step down even for Pellington, best known hitherto for poorly received thrillers like The Mothman Prophecies. While I encourage more movies with “Henry” in the title to offset the still-reverberating negative effects of 1986’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the sappy and patronizingly simplistic Henry Poole only makes the world’s Henrys, not to mention cinema itself, look bad.
Luke Wilson plays the present title character, a champagne-guzzling terminal case intent on dying alone in his newly purchased home. But the house’s stucco exterior boasts a water stain in the shape of Christ, attracting the neighbors (kooky racial stereotype on one side, hot single mom on the other) and thwarting his plans to die in peace. “It’s just a stain,” Poole says. “How can joo say dat?” asks his neighbor (Adriana Barraza, doing her best). Rudely obstinate in his faithlessness — he’s simply being a bad neighbor (and a bad Henry) — Poole is a sympathetic villain in need of redemption, a straw man against the film’s hollow message about the healing powers of belief — a message that, in its facileness, reveals the filmmakers’ own sad desperation for feel-good schmaltz and happy endings, miracles and easy answers.
With all the theological sophistication of Bruce Almighty and supporting characters named Patience, Hope and Dawn, this epitome of everything that’s wrong with Sundance, and maybe even America, uses the worst, the most manipulative, of Hollywood cheap tricks — e.g., over-earnest montages backed by a swelling score — to force-feed its jumbled themes; this isn’t a story about people, it’s emotional exploitation with caricatures, and if it narrowly avoids self-parody, it comes close to cinema as a form of abuse. The death of Pellington’s wife served as his driving inspiration to make the film but, if this is the director plumbing his emotional depths, he must be a very shallow man. Perhaps if he watched more movies and got fewer massages, he’d recognize that the easiest means of expression, like blasting your favorite dopey songs on the soundtrack, are the least effective. The worst movie of the year.
Opens August 15