LOS ANGELES (AP) — The road movie is refitted for a charming spin around scenic Iceland in “Land Ho!,” a serio-comedy of very modest ambition but a distinct character of its own. At its most reductive, a buddy movie about two 70ish gents who take an unplanned trip with the intent of “getting our grooves back,” this first collaboration between writer-directors Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz offers pleasure all the way but leaves the lingering feeling that it could have pushed itself further, both dramatically and comedically.
Befitting classic comic tradition, the script throws together two temperamental opposites, the expansive, lewd and life-embracing Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and the taciturn, unassertive and watchful Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), two ex-brothers-in-law with time on their hands and in need of a pick-me-up.
Mitch, a well-off surgeon already fed up with retirement, is a big fellow with big appetites, a guy who likes women, wine and weed and whose irrepressible suggestive remarks to and about the opposite sex marks him as a dinosaur in a politically correct world. Colin, a former French horn player and banker, habitually keeps his own council and has to be prodded by Mitch to accept his invitation to a first-class, all-expenses-paid trip to Iceland for a chance of scenery.
And mighty good scenery it is, too. Countering the trend of indie as well as local directors to exoticize the island and its inhabitants with a sort of stilted, deadpan humor, the directors show the place just as the well-heeled travelers experience it, from the spare modern elegance of Reykjavik’s first-class restaurants and hotels to the striking natural splendors of the coast and countryside.
In the city, the two old boys are joined by Mitch’s cousin Ellen and her friend Janet (Karrie Crouse and Elizabeth McKee), both PhD candidates at Columbia. Gregarious Mitch, whose running comments about everything are generally amusing and never banal, takes the gang to the city’s best fish restaurant and then to a nightclub where the guys are at least forty years older than anyone else, but he can’t get the others to share his reefers or loosen up to his standards. He’s a born libertine and a shoot-from the-hip philosopher.
Once the gals take off, the two adventurers rent a big Hummer and head for Iceland’s natural wonders, including The Golden Circle, sensational waterfalls, the geyser (to which Mitch immediately attaches heavy sexual connotations) the black beaches and the blue lagoon. They encounter a couple on their honeymoon, get so lost wandering away from their remote motel one night that they have to sleep outside and, over the course of things, open up a bit more about their lives and feelings. Nothing that goes deep, but things that touch, sometimes poignantly, on the prospect of being put out to pasture and how to move ahead and not be encumbered by the past.
It goes, more or less, how the great majority of trips like this would go — pleasantly, with mild highlights and chance encounters, but not the way most movies are constructed to be dramatically eventful or exaggeratedly comic. The tendency with this sort of material, especially in Hollywood’s hands, would be to turn it into an outright farce, along the lines of “Grumpy Old Men” or “The Bucket List.”
“Land Ho!” is appealing for not going the route of easy gags and dumbed-down humor, content instead to ride on Nelson’s abundant personality and the slow-burn gravitas of Eenhoorn, who scored last year
“Land Ho!”, a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some language, sexual references and drug use.” Running time: 95 minutes.
MPAA rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.