The acting cyclone promised by the pairing of Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as grizzled old Texans who use travelling salesmen for rifle practice is not just hype. It provides much of the charm in this easygoing comedy drama from writer/ director Tim McCanlies.
Haley Joel Osment rounds out the main cast as city boy Walter, dropped off by his pleasure-seeking mom (Kyra Sedgwick) at the ranch home of his great-uncles - gruff Garth (Caine) and even gruffer Hub (Duvall) - who have little use for an abandoned boy. But the trio form a bond over the codgers' tales of Foreign Legion exploits. Meanwhile Walter investigates the possibility that years ago his guardians stashed a mound of stolen loot...
McCanlies, a native Texan whose feature debut was the winsome Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81, thankfully sees the South not as an excuse for simplistic caricatures, but as a breeding ground for a kind of wily, resolute adventurer. He not only has a feel for the stubborn enchantment still to be mined from the likes of Duvall and Caine (sporting a rare American drawl), but also shows a flair for action: the flashback scenes of Arabian derring-do are spirited enough to feel like a film within a film.
Secondhand Lions is ultimately a sentimental yarn with the expected tearful finale. But in McCanlies' deft hands, the emotions are carefully harvested when they could have been blasted from a Winchester.