Movie Review: McGregor & Hawke, “Raymond & Ray”

The simple pleasure of seeing Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor paired-up as brothers by different mothers does the heavy lifting of “Raymond & Ray,” a downbeat dramedy about their dead father’s last wish.

It starts out as an estranged-sibling melodrama, drifts into road picture territory and grows more contrived the closer we get to that “last wish.”

But “contrived” is kind of the brand of the creator of TV’s “In Treatment” and such films as the all-star cast “Mother and Child.” Rodrigo García likes to mix things up, add characters and obstacles and plot twists, and he squeezes a TV season’s worth of those into the second and especially the third act of this picture, which sets out to touch you and satisfies itself with a string of “Didn’t see THAT comings.”

Raymond (McGregor) shows up at Ray’s cabin door just as his latest bedmate is making her exit. They aren’t close, and they were even more removed from their father. But at least Raymond got word that he has died.

“His last wish was that his sons attend his funeral,” Raymond relates. But the other son that their father named Raymond, Ray, isn’t sentimental enough to consider that. The fact that their “monster” of a dad gave them the same names speaks to how he “messed with” them. And now he’s demanding a little control, post mortem. But Raymond insists.

“I want to know what it looks like to put him under ground.”

“It’s gonna take a lot more than a hole in the ground to get the old man outta your head.”

They drive to Richmond, and bits of background come out. Raymond’s just lost his third marriage. Ray is a recovering addict, a jazz trumpeter a long time between gigs. Neither is flush with cash, and the damned funeral home wants “embalming” and “makeup” fees “because that’s what your father wanted.”

The half-brothers find themselves dealing with a string of funeral home folks expressing “Sorry for your loss,” a lawyer pal (John Ortiz) of their dad’s with yet more “conditions” their father left them, and the landlady (Maribel Verdú of “Pan’s Labyrinth”) who apparently was the old man’s last lover.

Everybody they meet seems to know the late Benjamin Harrison, from the funeral director (Todd Louiso) who put him in a coffin in accordance with his “Jewish heritage,” to Dad’s last nurse (Sophie Okonedo, quite good), whom ladykiller Ray seems to identify as his “type,” to the preacher (Vondie Curtis-Hall, terrific) who helped with Ben’s arrangements and will preside over his service.

Because “Our father wasn’t Jewish. He converted for 30 minutes once.”

Everybody has a warmer, more forgiving picture of the old man than the sons who refused to see him for years and years. And every demand that he makes in his will tells them that he’s still the manipulative bastard they distanced themselves from all those years ago.

“What was he like as a father?” “The worst.”

As Raymond and by extension Ray shrug and go along with this, we see the sad adults their father made of them, “two grown-ass men whose lives didn’t pan out.”

That movie is actually pretty interesting. The acting is quite good and the family dynamic solid, if a tad predictable. But the manipulations and complications that García layers on top of that story, at the long, graveside second half of “Raymond & Ray” are not. They start out cute and transition to cutesie, and “Raymond & Ray” goes right off the rails.

Rating: R for language and some sexual material.

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ethan Hawke, Maribel Verdú, Sophie Okonedo and Vondie Curtis-Hall.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Rodrigo García. An Apple TV+ release.

Running time: 1:45

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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