Sunday, August 29, 2010

$5 A Day: Grade B


$5 A Day (2008)

Christopher Walken, Alessandro Nivola, Sharon Stone, Amanda Peet, Peter Coyote; Director Nigel Cole.

This is a silly, sentimental road movie about an old guy (Walken) who has a terminal brain tumor and wants to reconnect with his adult son (Nivola), ostensibly to be driven from Atlantic City to Mexico for treatment, but actually because he wants some love before he dies. The father is a harmless hustler and a con man who gets his morning coffee from a nearby hotel’s lobby service for guests, his free breakfasts at IHOP, where he shows one of his many driver’s licenses “proving” it is his birthday, and drives a PT Cruiser wrapped in pink Sweet N Low advertising (company provided). He ingeniously lives in America for only $5 a day and the movie is ingeniously well-financed with product placements.

His son is an ex-con trying to go straight who is alternately horrified, disgusted, angered, and compassionate with the old man. As on any road trip, situations develop, complications arise, and secrets are revealed. The sentimentality is well leavened by the witty dialog and clever story to make the movie an enjoyable comedy rather than a maudlin family drama. But the bottom line is that Walken is a surprisingly subtle actor who is incapable of uttering a line that does not make you at least smile, and in this movie, usually laugh out loud. That’s not because he “tells jokes” but because he is fundamentally a funny person, with impeccable timing and tone. The movie is well worth seeing just for him, but all the major players (even Stone) do fine work here.

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