Funnyman Jake Johnson is son “tested” by his long-estranged, now-dead mother in the bittersweet “better to grow up late than never” comedy “Ride the Eagle.”
It’s a not-quite-aimless film peopled with “types” and built on movie tropes — the sorts of situations and stories one finds often in film and TV, rarely in real life. A good cast and amusing situations make it a pleasant, sometimes amusing if not particularly memorable experience.
Johnson, who co-wrote it, is Leif, our first “type.” He’s a woodlands California slacker, adrift at 40, living in a cabin behind a friend’s (Luis Fernandez-Gil) house, with no apparent purpose other than playing the bongos in a band with that friend and sharing his life with a black Labrador named Nora.
When an intermediary (Cleo King) brings him the news that his mother died, he barely reacts, because they were long-estranged. He’s not certain this doesn’t call for a “celebration.
She abandoned him and joined a cult in the mountains further north, so of course she’s played by Susan Sarandon.
“Played” because Mom left him A) a cabin up there in pot paradise and B) a VHS videotape about the tasks he must perform before he inherits it. It’s his “conditional inheritance.” There’s nothing for it but for him to load the van, discover that her “cabin” is a rustic McMansion built of redwood, that she’s stashed pot everywhere, and listen to her airy fairy lectures on that VHS tapes because she felt “I did not teach you enough stuff,” so better late than never.
His tasks are given fanciful labels like “Express yourself” and “Love is important” and “Eat what you kill…become a predator, not the prey,” and include delivering notes to people who don’t know she’s dead, him tracking down “the one who got away” and apologizing to her and trout fishing with his bare hands.
And the bumps on the road include a hostile local (J.K. Simmons) given to elaborate, profane phone threats and that “one who got away” (D’Arcy Carden) who might be still interested, all these years later.
It’s easy to see every actor in their appointed character. There’s very little heavy lifting here, no big emotional peaks and only the occasional threat of violence to interrupt the mellow vibe this “Ride” coasts on.
Johnson, of “New Girl” and “Safety Not Guaranteed,” has aged out of the hyper hilarity he served up earlier in his career, but eases into this situation and this character like mid-career, pre-comeback Matthew McConaughey.
“Just go with it” seems to be the vibe they went for, and that’s my halfhearted endorsement of “Ride the Eagle.” If you like these actors and this woodland setting, just go with it.
MPA Rating: unrated, pot smoking and profanity
Cast: Jake Johnson, Susan Sarandon, D’Arcy Carden, Cleo King, Luis Fernandez-Gil and J.K. Simmons
Credits: Directed by Trent O’Donnell, script by Jake Johnson and Trent O’Donnell. A Decal release.
Running time: 1:28