Henry Poole Is Here (Overture Films, PG)

film_henry_sm.jpgThere may well be a market for simple-minded, high-budget tales of Christian redemption; if so, Henry Poole should do very well at the box office.





Henry Poole Is Here is a fable suitable for children of all ages, but palatable only to those who are already true believers. If you buy into the mish-mash of Christianity and folk beliefs which are the background assumptions of Mark Pellington’s latest film, perhaps watching it is a beautiful and meaningful experience. But if you don’t, Henry Poole is a lazy, cliché-ridden mess with a central character so boring he hardly seems to be worthy of two hours of anyone’s time, let alone the price of a ticket.

The eponymous Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) has returned to his old neighborhood to die. He has one of those mysterious Hollywood diseases which are solemnly declared incurable but cause no visible changes or impairments to the victim, who remains as handsome as ever even as the improbably precise date of death nears. Other than that, we know very little about Henry, except that he has loads of money (he tells his real estate agent not to bother negotiating a lower price for his new house), drinks like a fish, and apparently has neither friends nor family.

Henry Poole Is Here is a tale of redemption, so naturally Henry’s new neighborhood is populated by people with meaningful names. His neighbors are the good-hearted Esperanza (Adriana Barraza; the name means "hope" in Spanish) and the attractive and available Dawn (Radha Mitchell). When Henry goes to the supermarket to stock up on booze, he always finds himself being served by an attractive but near-sighted clerk named Patience (Rachel Seiferth).

Even his house is in on the conspiracy: A bad stucco job soon sprouts a stain which looks (to Esperanza and her friends, at least) just like the face of Jesus. Then real blood drips from the wall, a miracle confirmed by the Catholic Church itself following a scientific investigation organized by Father Salazar (George Lopez).

The stucco stain becomes a pilgrimage site, interfering with Henry’s plans to die a crabby, solitary drunk. Then the image proves to have miraculous powers, enabling the mute to speak and the ocularly challenged to throw away their thick glasses. If you’ve made it this far, you can guess what happens with Henry’s disease, his bad moods and that attractive neighbor.

There may well be a market for simple-minded, high-budget tales of Christian redemption; if so, Henry Poole should do very well at the box office. The production values are good, and the story places few demands on the viewer. Moral ambiguity is an unknown concept in this film, and there’s never a question how the story will come out. Henry Poole doesn’t place many demands on its cast, either; they do more posing than acting, and key dramatic developments are indicated by montages accompanied by a pop soundtrack. Luke Wilson is the biggest disappointment. Despite the major transformation which is supposed to take place in his character, he looks and acts very much the same at the end of the film as at the beginning, except that he’s finally decided to shave and put on a clean shirt. | Sarah Boslaugh

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