The Wendell Baker Story

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Wendell Baker Story Movie Poster Image
Wilson bros' uneven comedy has dark undertones.
  • PG-13
  • 2007
  • 99 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Wendell is almost always up to no good (he forges Texas driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, etc.), is sometimes condescending to his girlfriend, and can't seem to stay legit (he also faked an insurance claim). A character is thought to have molested a child. Disrespectful treatment of the elderly (including faking their deaths and stealing their Medicare checks).

Violence

The corrupt manager of a "retirement hotel" has his henchmen rough up residents who don't "cooperate" and has them hauled away in a taxi to a mysterious place. There's literally a pistol-packing mama (or, to be precise, a shotgun-toting one) who's trigger-happy.

Sex

No one actually has sex, but there's plenty of talk about it. Men at the retirement home ask Wendell if he can get them "laid." They also proposition two young women by talking about how they'd make them reach orgasm. Two male nurses strip down to their bare behinds (which aren't really seen) and attempt to seduce two underage girls. A male nurse has a retiree sit on his lap and then flirts with her. Wendell and his girlfriend kiss, though much of their interaction is fairly chaste, even sweet. One piece of graffiti refers to "blue balls."

Language

Surprisingly mild in comparison to the movie's themes: Just some use of "a--hole" and "damn." Other language includes lots of disrespectful references to the aged (for example, one character says "I just love to see their wrinkled old faces light up").

Consumerism

Mention of magazine titles (Forbes, BusinessWeek).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of drinking, especially in the beginning of the movie when Wendell is selling fake IDs. A male nurse abuses prescription drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although this comedy is rated PG-13 and co-stars Night at the Museum's Owen Wilson, some of the content may be too much for younger teens. (It's all played for laughs, but still.) There's no real nudity, but there's lots of crude sexual banter ("G spots," "blue balls," etc.), and some of the characters end up in compromising positions (the cops arrest two men set up with underage women). Dark undertones touch on everything from drinking and (prescription) drug use to genuine criminal activity (the main character sells fake IDs, and a nurse fakes her elderly patients' deaths, steals their Medicare checks, and re-sells their prescription drugs) and depression (one retiree holes up in his room for years). The elderly are mocked at length, and in one scene the main character is thought to have molested a child at a urinal.

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What's the story?

Crude charmer Wendell (Luke Wilson) finally gets his comeuppance when one of his scams finally lands him in prison. But Wendell is so ingratiating that turns jail into a big frat party, football scrimmages and all. But when his long-suffering girlfriend, Doreen (Eva Mendes), finally dumps him, devil-may-care Wendell finally, well, cares. Once paroled, he vows to start over and run his own hotel someday. But he must start at the bottom at Shady Grove, a retirement home (mis)managed by nefariously inept head nurse Neil King (Owen). In King and his mean sidekick, McTeague (Eddie Griffin), Wendell has finally met his match. But with the help of three hell-raising retirees (Harry Dean Stanton, Seymour Cassel, and Kris Kristofferson), Wendell finally gets to play a real hero -- and, yes, maybe get the girl back, too.

Is it any good?

With an impressive cast of characters and a likeable lead, Wilson manages to make Wendell Baker Story into a jaunty comedy. It's best when it's effortlessly irreverent -- as when Wendell and Dave cross swords over Doreen, or when Cassel's character tries to pick up a girl by dropping the "G" word ("G-spot"). And Will Ferrell is hilariously brilliant as Doreen's new boyfriend.

But unfortunately, it races inexorably toward a corny second half that loses the energy established in the first 15 minutes. In the movie business, there's a thin line between quirky and trying too hard. Fun as it may be, The Wendell Baker Story unfortunately lands squarely on the latter side.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how movies make audiences sympathize with characters who aren't entirely sympathetic. How does the movie make Wendell seem "good" even though he's actually an alcohol-guzzling lawbreaker? Does his "badness" make his redemption in the end even more striking? Can you think of other similar characters in other movies or TV shows? And what about Wendell and Doreen? Do they seem like a good match? Why does Doreen put up with him early on? Is her character a positive portrayal of women?

Movie details

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