By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
This gloriously deadbeat, self- described "venture capitalist" lives a version of the Austin life, chewing on a cheroot as he sells fake IDs out of a trailer parked on the banks of the Rio Grandeboasting Salma Hayek as a satisfied former customer. The epitome of lovable loser-ness, Wendell emerges happy and cheerful after a stretch in stir (where, in an uncharacteristically frantic montage, he's shown uniting the prison's warring gangs). Paroled to a menial job at a retirement hotel, he improves the quality of life at this dubious institution just by opening a window. (Let the sun shine in!)
The establishment is under the control of the nefarious Nurse King (brother Owen, reveling in the role of Luke's evil twin) who understands that Wendell"just a pure idiot, eminently frame-able"will make a useful foil in his underhanded schemes. The Wendell Baker Story thus turns into a version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with the Wilson brothers squeezing maximum humor out of mistreatment of the resident oldstersnotably '70s icons Seymour Cassel and Harry Dean Stanton, who give the movie a welcome zetz. Not so the eternally righteous Kris Kristofferson, who embodies a petrified counterculture fantasy as the institution's in-house stone mystic. The tone is so Watergate that Will Ferrell's energetic unbilled turn as Wendell's romantic nemesis seems positively futuristic.
Low-key to comatose, Wendell Baker might have been improved were it shot in 16mm black and white. There's no shortage of shenanigans, although it all depends on how funny you find the spectacle of Dean wearing a "One Nation Under a Groove" T-shirt as Seymour hits on a teenage liquor store clerk, or the exasperation with which Owen accuses one of the geezers of "urinizing all over yourself." Empty-headed clichés abound, the least feeble of which is Wendell's proud assertion that "Mexico is what the U.S. could have been." Substitute Wendell Baker for Mexico and Holly- wood for the U.S. and you've got the self-important credo of this amiable time-waster.
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