Movie Review: Secondhand Lions
“You want them to like me, so they’ll die and leave me all their money?” 14-year-old Walter (Haley Joel Osment of Sixth Sense) asks his mother.

That’s the general idea all right. You see, Walter’s mother, Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) hasn’t gotten a fair shake from life, and she hopes that if she leaves young Walter in the care of her eccentric old uncles, Hub and Garth (Robert Duvall and Michael Caine), he will ingratiate himself with them and find out where they stashed their money. Rumor has it that these two old coots made a fortune robbing banks or as mafia hit men or in some other illegal capacity that no one is quite sure of.

Unfortunately for Walter and his mother, Uncle Hub gruffly informs her that her kid’s “a damn weenie.” But that doesn’t deter Mae, who deposits Walter on their ramshackle doorstep and hightails it off, supposedly to further her education.

So Walter is stuck with his crotchety great uncles, who enjoy taking potshots at traveling salesmen and freely admit that they “don’t know nothing about kids, so if you need something, get it yourself, or – better yet – do without.”

Such is the uneasy arrangement struck by Walter and his uncles, but he soon stumbles upon a trunk with an old photograph of an exotic and beautiful woman. When Walter asks Garth who the woman is, Garth spins a tale out over a number of nights about their adventurous youth with the Foreign Legion. Walter’s not sure whether the stories are true or not, but the adventures give him some principles to believe in – such as honor, valor and loyalty – to which he’s had little exposure in his own life.

Set in central Texas in the early 1960s, Secondhand Lions is the story of a child who renews two old codgers’ lust for life while they teach him what it really means to become a man. With a top-notch cast, the movie combines tall-tale adventures with quieter character studies that are richly rewarding. Ably written and directed by Tim McCanlies, who wrote the screenplay for the acclaimed animated film The Iron Giant, the film’s only real missteps are Duvall’s sleepwalking sequences, which come across as too contrived for the “realistic” portion of the film, and a scene near the end in which Mae’s nasty boyfriend (Nicky Katt) beats up Walter. Watching Walter get hit is more graphic than the rest of the violence in the picture, so parents should beware. Otherwise, this is an excellent film for kids ages 8 and up.

Rated PG for “thematic material, language and action violence.”