Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Stars: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson
Directors: Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens
Against a constantly evolving volcanic landscape, two aging guys discover new life beneath their crusty old selves in Land Ho!, a consistently surprising film that is equal parts comedy, adventure and coming-of-age drama.
The year's most engaging buddy picture stars 65-year-old veteran actor Paul Eenhoorn (This Is Martin Bonner) and 72-year-old Earl Lynn Nelson, who in real life still works his day job as a surgeon in Kentucky. But this is no pro-am acting tournament; just as Eenhoorn's character has his hands full reining in his impulsive pal, so Eenhoorn the actor must all but wrestle his costar to the ground to keep him from running off with the film.
We first find Colin (Eenhoorn) alone at his home in the country, quietly suffering the economic and emotional fallout of two failed marriages and some less-than-robust financial planning. Into his life parachutes Mitch (Nelson), his gregarious ex-brother-in-law, who produces from his pocket two tickets to Iceland. Colin resists, but not too much, and the pair are soon wandering the streets of Reykjavik, sampling impossible-looking local cuisine and flirting with impossibly good-looking young women.
At this point your typical old-guys-gone-wild movie would rumble off the tracks as the fellows rediscovered their youthful virility and showed those young things the wonders of elder love. But — thankfully — Land Ho! writer-directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens shun that route. Sure, sparks fly at first between the guys and two local lovelies (Karrie Crouse and Elizabeth McKee) they take to dinner. But just as quickly, that segues into the comfy equilibrium of a sweet intergenerational friendship that blossoms between the men and their younger companions.
Inevitably, the guys and gals part ways, and we're back to Colin and Mitch on the road. As Colin quietly comes to terms with the fact that he's not going to die anytime soon (forcing him to find a way to savor life), Mitch, loud and profane, confronts the cares and regrets that lie beneath his 24-hour-party-person exterior.
Eenhoorn and Nelson reportedly improvised about half the dialogue in Land Ho!, and their spontaneity fuels a film in which surprisingly little happens. And that's just fine: For the most part we're happy companions on the pair's idyll, marveling alongside them at Icelandic geysers and misty hot springs. The landscape they traverse is barren and beautiful; the emotional chasms they bridge are honest and universal.
By trip's end we may share the pair's exhaustion, but we also dearly hope they'll invite us along on their next impromptu odyssey.
Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.
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