‘Ride the Eagle’ Flies Too Mellow

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Self-ironic deprecation is far from the worst thing about 'Ride the Eagle'

“That’s a horrible title” laments our lead during the conclusion, referencing a painting from which the film takes its name. Self-ironic deprecation is far from the worst thing about ‘Ride the Eagle’ though.

★★✰✰✰

A word cloud for Trent O’Donnell’s undemanding indie comedy would feature maternity, mortality and regrets on the one hand, canophilia, sentimentality and marijuana on the other. Its plot hinges on the relationship between Leif (Jake Johnson), a bongo-playing, spliff-smoking slacker with a kind heart, and Honey (Susan Sarandon), his recently deceased kookster of a mother. Having passed away without reconciling—years of distance fissured by her eccentricity—Honey bequeaths to Leif her spacious log cabin in the mountains of northern California. But there’s a condition. Honey forces her son to complete a series of quirky tasks. If he fails, he will lose the house.

It sounds set up for hijinks, but the assignments are much less imaginative than you’d think. Leif has to “express himself,” get in touch with his energies, catch a fish with his bare hands, call “the one that got away,” and commit a housebreak to leave a note (to Carl, an ex-boyfriend of Honey’s played by J.K. Simmons). There’s never that much going on and it’s never going on with much enthusiasm. O’ Donnell has opted to marry his stoned protagonist to a stoned tempo, though for all the ganja on-screen the film isn’t in any way psychedelic. Just inert.

Not even Simmons cameoing with a brief Whiplash greatest hits lifts the energy levels. Jake Johnson’s own half-hearted delivery does the flat dialogue no favours, while Sarandon flowerpowers Honey up to maximal hippieness—to little consequence. Furthermore, any film that makes explicit references to sleep risks falling into a trap if it slips into a slumber of its own. An early acknowledgement of Leif’s dog Norah yawning acquires just such an unintentional double meaning.

The best scene, sneaking out of inauspicious beginnings, is a lengthy phone conversation between Leif and Audrey (D’Arcy Carden)—the “one that got away” that his mother has mandated him to call. What starts as a frigid conversation between ex-partners who’ve spent years apart ends in comical phone sex. Chemistry steadily builds between the pair, with Carden’s bubbly performance being the primary driver, ensuring it’s her character’s wit that breaks the ice. Other than that, there are only a handful of laughs. One is a running gag about the 25 pounds of marijuana Honey has left stuffed in every cupboard of the cabin, another is the punchline to a eulogy delivered by Carl.

At the very least, however, despite the lack of vitality, Ride the Eagle isn’t a chore to watch. Everyone’s likeable, and the certain knowledge it’s all going to work out fine makes for a pressure-free viewing experience. If your time is going to be spent on a movie without chops, at least you want to spend that time in pleasant company. The gentle colour palette employed by cinematographer Judd Overton further soothes a mind that might otherwise be vexed as opposed to indifferent. And it incidentally functions as a persuasive advert for visiting Yosemite National Park, global warming-fuelled wildfires (sensibly left out) notwithstanding. I did say at the very least. 

The Verdict

On the positive side, Ride the Eagle lets you spend an hour and a half in the majesty of the Sierra Nevada without actually having to fly there. But that’s being kind to a kind comedy that wallows through its sentimental reconciliation story in an emerald mellow. It wouldn’t hurt a fly and certainly won’t you, but could seriously use some speed to liven itself up. As in pace. Not drugs. And some more jokes too.

Words by Alex Crisp


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