Willie Nelson sings on Wendell Baker Story Movie Soundtrack

(I wish Willie was in this movie with his buddies.)


Like many family-run enterprises, this home-grown effort from the Wilson brothers is a little rough around the edges compared with the slicker, corporate competition. It doesn’t necessarily offer everything you need, but it gets by on good-natured charm.

Luke Wilson, who also wrote the screenplay and co-directed with brother Andrew, is affable Texas grifter Wendell Baker. With the help of cohort Reyes (Jacob Vargas), Baker produces counterfeit Texas driver’s licenses and sells them to illegal immigrants. Baker’s luck runs out when one of his customers is an undercover INS agent.

Baker is sentenced to a stretch at Huntsville, where he quickly becomes big man on campus. This doesn’t leave much time for visits from hottie girlfriend Doreen (Eva Mendes), who becomes fed up with Baker taking her for granted. By the time Baker is paroled, Doreen has moved on to Dave Bix, played by honorary Wilson brother Will Ferrell.

Baker’s work-release program finds him at the Shady Grove Retirement Hotel, run by shady Neil King (Owen Wilson). Confronted with King’s scam to take advantage of the elderly, Baker vows to mend his ways, bring King to justice and win back Doreen along the way.

As stylists, the brothers Wilson are never going to be confused with the Coens. Shot in and around Austin, The Wendell Baker Story is visually flat, for the most part. The editing is choppy, with some conversations seeming to take place between people who were never in the same place at the same time. The major set pieces aren’t staged with any particular flair, and the hit-and-miss humor tends toward the sophomoric.

Despite these flaws, there’s something inherently likable about the movie. The soundtrack is a big help; most of the budget appears to have gone toward securing the rights to songs by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and other top talents, who lend an emotional depth that’s otherwise lacking.

The supporting cast is terrific, other than Mendes, who has yet to prove she can act her way out of a wet paper bag. Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel are particularly essential as a pair of Shady Grove residents who still have a zest for life. The Wilsons overreach a bit to give all of their characters the happiest possible ending, but the story doesn’t matter as much as the genial good-time vibe.

Exclusive: AMC Sundance 11, Fort Worth; AMC Grapevine Mills; Angelika Film Center, Dallas

Director: Andrew Wilson, Luke Wilson

Stars: Luke Wilson, Eva Mendes, Harry Dean Stanton, Owen Wilson


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