Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Wendell Baker Story -- Second Chances

Wendell Baker (Luke Owen) is a typical character you’d find in an Owen brothers film. Witty, likeable, irresponsible, friendly, he is a dreamer and a schemer with just enough brains to make things work right now, but not enough to see beyond the immediate present. And when his fake ID scam on the Tex-Mex border collapses, he winds up in prison. He loses his long-time girlfriend, Doreen (Eva Mendes), as well as his dog. When he finally gets paroled, he is sent to the Shady Grove retirement home, where he sees an opportunity to go straight, but the head nurse, Neil King (Owen Wilson), sees him as the fall guy for his ongoing scam.

This all sounds good, another light comic feature, right? Not so. The Owen brothers have taken laid-back to the limit, and this film is so laid-back it's a snoozer. There are some funny moments, but these are few and far between. The movie fails to capture the attention, and even at just 100 minutes feels over-long. What happened to the Owen Wilson who brought so many laughs in Shanghai Noon? Or even the freshness that Luke and Owen brought together in Bottle Rocket at the start of their career?

The Wendell Baker Story Movie StillThough the movie is disappointing, The Wendell Baker Story has a redemptive thread woven into it. Loser that he is, Wendell is given a second chance by the authorities when it is clear that he has been rehabilitated. And he is also given a second chance by the quirky but colorful elderly residents of the retirement home. They see a potential in him that others have missed. When given this chance, he rises to the occasion. And this causes us to reflect on those around us. How often do we see, or even look for, the potential in them? Are we willing to look beyond failure to give a second chance? Jesus did that for us, since we all were failures, lost beyond our own rescue. And He gave us the second chance, the second birth, we needed. Surely we should do likewise.

There is one line that stands out in Wendell Baker. Wendell befriends Nasher (Kris Kristofferson), a Howard Hughes-like recluse living incognito in the retirement home. Through this friendship, Nasher finally leaves his room, the first-time in 7 years, to fly Wendell and friends on a trip. At the conclusion of this trip, and finally finding himself, he says to Wendell, “Don’t live with regret.” That is sage advice. Regret will discolor our memories, shackle our present and hinder our future. If we cannot change the past, we must make peace with it and live in the present, looking to the future. There may be things we have done that cause us pain and regret, but we can seek forgiveness from others and from ourselves. Coming to terms, can clear the way for the hope of a bright future.

Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs

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