Ride the Eagle – movie review

Jake Johnson (Jurassic World) basically single-handedly carries Ride the Eagle, a quirky comedic drama born of a dysfunctional relationship.

In his early 40s, Leif (Johnson) lives in a small hut in the mountains. He’s the enthusiastic bongo player for a band, whose other members are 20 years younger. Beyond that, his greatest love is his black pet Labrador, Nora. One day Missy (Cleo King) visits. She lets Leif know his estranged mother Honey (Susan Sarandon) has passed away from cancer. Further, Honey – who abandoned Leif to join a cult when he was only 12 – has left him her handsome Yosemite cabin on the proviso that he undertakes a number of tasks. Missy doesn’t know what these tasks are, but Leif decides to makeJake  the trip with his dog.

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 (figuratively) poisoned 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, Audrey (D’Arcy Carden). 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 humorous set pieces. 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, adds a left-of-centre feel that lightens the mood.

Throughout, Johnson 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 by Honey – who was a pretty ordinary artist – which clearly has a double meaning in the context of Leif’s journey.

The movie is hardly must-see material, but I found it a pleasant enough distraction. Although at times “thin”, Ride the Eagle has just enough in it to make it largely entertaining, if not entirely convincing.

Alex First

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