Writer/Director Tim McCanlies' (The Iron Giant) Secondhand Lions tells us the story of two oddball great uncles of young Walter (Haley Joel Osment). Garth and Hub (Michael Caine, Robert Duvall) spend their elderly days in an old cabin-like house in '60s Texas, gardening, shooting carp and terrifying traveling salesmen with their shotguns. Walter's irresponsible mother Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) leaves him in the care of the two in order to attend college at Fort Worth. Word is out that the eccentric duo have millions stashed away somewhere on their plot – income generated from years of supposed plundering during their secretive youth. Mae wants Walter to find out about the money while he lives there. She isn't the only one laying sights on the hidden fortune. Distant Relatives Ralph (Michael O'Neill) and wife Helen (Deirdre O'Connell) pay regular visits trying to hit a soft corner with the two, but never achieve the desirable results. Walter initially begins to find it increasingly difficult to fit himself into their unusual lifestyle (No Telephone and No Television). Soon enough, they begin on grow on each other while Garth begins to fascinate Walter with stories of their escapades in Africa during the 1920's – defeating entire armies, rescuing damsels in distress and fighting powerful sheikhs.
Despite having a decently interesting premise, the movie succumbs to the intrinsic flaws of the general PG flick. True that it ventures into the feel-good family movie territory, but Lions doesn't quite get it right. To start with, Haley Joel Osment puts in a mediocre performance as Walter, partly owing to his on-screen role which doesn't facilitate much development. At times he just tries too hard to charm. The tinge of innocence that one came to appreciate in his Oscar nominated role four years ago being replaced by monotonous replication. Not that his portrayal is wooden, it's just far too unbelievable. Macaulay Culkin anyone? Caine and Duvall do provide mild amusement in an otherwise uninspiring display along with some canny dialogue. Without ever exploiting the fine skills that these two cinematic greats possess, they easily outshine the rest of the cast. Unlike Osment, they manage to transcend the boundaries of their characters and give the movie the much needed impetus.
However, McCanlies does succeed in his story telling. Simple symbolism employed with the help of a side plot depicts the brilliance that was stamped all over the much underrated Iron Giant. Garth and Hub purchase an actual secondhand lion with the desire to hunt it down on their own plot. It turns out to be too old to even move, so it ends up being Walters pet. Running almost in parallel storylines, the change in the lion and the ageing pair is visibly apparent as Walter steps deeper into their lives. The element of secrecy that surrounds the accumulated fortune is well generated and concealed until it's quite needlessly ruined by an over-the-top ending.
Secondhand Lions is definitely not a run of the mill family flick, neither is it worthy of much approval and admiration. Though, one thing does becomes glaringly apparent – the immense potential, most of which was lost. - Snider Rodrigues