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$5 a Day
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by brianorndorf

"Walken Away"
2 stars

As much as I enjoy Christopher Walken chasing his every last oddball whim and a story that takes a road trip through the pit stops of America, it’s just not enough to make the dramedy “Five Dollars a Day” interesting. Dreadfully formulaic and absent a thoughtful emotional core, the picture is best valued as a forgettable trifle starring Hollywood’s most enduring weirdo.

With a prison stint in his past making it difficult to hold down a job and his girlfriend (Amanda Peet) leaving him due to his inability to be honest, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) is at the end of his rope. Receiving a message that his estranged father Nat (Christopher Walken) is dying, Flynn travels to New Jersey to check up on a man he despises. A grifter who spends his days living as cheaply as possible, Nat reveals he has a brain tumor, looking for someone to drive him to New Mexico for an experimental medical treatment. Reluctantly, Flynn agrees to the task, and the two take to the road, following a specially prepared map that highlights all the freebies along the way. At first agitated, Flynn grows to appreciate his father as their adventure takes them to surprising places and alarming revelations.

With Nigel Cole in the director’s chair, there’s not much to expect with “Five Dollars a Day.” The mind behind “A Lot Like Love” and “Calendar Girls” plays it very simply here, sticking with a hardened road trip formula provided by screenwriters Tippi and Neal H. Dobrofsky, who scoop up a heap of familiarity to mold their characterizations and tensions. It’s a sleepy picture, leaning on the universal pain of domestic distress, looking to bang out some laughs and tears as Flynn and Nat get to know each other all over again, using long stretches of interstate travel as their confessional booth.

You’ve seen it all before, in far better films too, which leaves the cast responsible for adding some spark to the proceedings. Walken is Walken here, playing up his idiosyncrasy to keep Nat in a place of appeal. Extending vowels, looking in the wrong directions, and dancing, Walken puts in a minor effort, basically relying on his own persona to fill out the character. Nat’s penny-pinching mania is amusing to behold (the pair drive around in a car plastered with a Sweet’N Low skin -- one of many product placement opportunities in the picture), but there’s no depth to the man, no real consequence. However, Walken’s interplay is strong with Nivola, and the two make a plausible family. Adding some needed spice is Sharon Stone, here as a viciously spray-tanned friend of the family, who offers the boys a warm bed and herself for the night. Stone makes quite an impression.

Coming to a boil with a question of paternity, “Five Dollars a Day” begins to take itself seriously in the final reel, which is pure death to the fragile script. Better as a mild comedy with interesting tips on how to swindle anything or anyone in sight, the film rolls along smoothly when keeping to uncomfortable spaces of miscommunication. Anything more requires a sharper premise and a more invested set of actors to expertly pull off.

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originally posted: 09/11/10 00:40:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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  24-Apr-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Aug-2010



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