It is the exclamation point in the title “Land Ho!” that best indicates the tone, feel and goals of the film, a modest, wonderfully entertaining travelogue buddy movie. Here is the antithesis to the tired dudes-on-a-road-trip comedy, a funny, astutely observed crowd-pleaser with two gloriously pitch-perfect lead performances.
Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson star in this Sundance Film Festival smash directed by Aaron Katz (director of 2010’s low-wattage detective treat “Cold Weather”) and Martha Stephens, and the duo give two of the most believably human performances I’ve seen this year. The film also qualifies as one of 2014’s most entertaining.
Eenhoorn’s Australia-born Colin and Nelson’s Mitch, a Kentucky native, are former brothers-in-law whose late wife and ex-wife, respectively, were sisters. They are old men now, reunited for what Colin believes is a relaxing few days of visiting.
But as quickly becomes apparent, there is no real relaxing with Mitch. He is a brash surgeon who loves wine, weed and women, and spouts such lines as “Don’t get that Sunday afternoon attitude ... Good times are still a-comin.’ ”
Mitch’s idea for some good times is one even the strait-laced Colin cannot turn down: an adventurous trip to Iceland. As they arrive in Iceland and pile into their rented Hummer, “Land Ho!” hits its stride, leading to great humor and real pathos.
If the former is mostly provided by Nelson, the latter is due to his co-star, Eenhoorn. Best known for his role in last year’s “This Is Martin Bonner,” Eenhoorn is the spitting image of Ian Holm and arguably as subtle a performer.
His Colin is the individual who shakes his head and smiles as Mitch talks of T-and-A, pulls out a joint, and reels off his Top 5 list of shaggable Hollywood stars. There is an odd couple vibe, of predictably, but Nelson and Eenhoorn create characters well-drawn enough to burst from the shackles of predictability.
Similar to Michael Winterbottom’s modern classic comedy “The Trip,” the shaggy plot of “Land Ho!” finds that Mitch and Colin drive, eat, drink, talk, occasionally argue and hit sights both tourist-heavy and under-the-radar.
They meet up with Mitch’s younger cousin Ellen (Karrie Crouse) and her friend (Elizabeth McKee) – watch Mitch completely misinterpret most of Ellen’s comments – and later befriend a Canadian photographer (Alice Olivia Clarke). But mostly, they are two old friends having an adventure together.
Even at just 95 minutes, “Land Ho!” feels about 10 to 15 minutes too long, and oddly, the film is saddled with an absurdly synth-y score that sounds like an instrumental collection of Paul Young covers. When Big Country’s “In a Big Country” bursts into life on the soundtrack, it sounds positively restrained by comparison.
There also is the matter of Mitch’s constant brashness. He is utterly, overwhelmingly unfiltered, and some will feel they’ve had their fill of him by the one-hour mark. But he is also likable and often very sweet, and directors Katz and Stephens smartly pull back from Mitch as the film nears its ending, turning their attention to the quiet, contemplative Colin.
When asked what he and Colin are up to on their journey, Mitch says, “Getting our groove back.” Thanks to directors Katz and Stephens and stars Eenhoorn and Nelson, the buddy movie has gotten its groove back. As “Land Ho!” draws to a close, you may even find yourself longing for a sequel.
Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, Alice Olivia Clarke
Directors: Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens
Running time: 95 minutes
Rating: R for some language, sexual references and drug use.
The Lowdown: Former brothers-in-law Mitch and Colin journey to Iceland for an adventurous trip.