You have to wonder how a film such as Unlikely Hero, that stars Hollywood darlings Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone and Jeff Daniels, can find its way straight to DVD rather than getting a glitzy cinema release. That is until you see it.
Failed writer Richard (Jeff Daniels) heads to Long Beach in order to start work on his latest novel. While his wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow) worries about him Richard has his loyal imaginary friend Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) to look out for him. While cycling through town on a child’s bike one day Richard meets Abby (Emma Stone) and the pair strike up a friendship. As their friendship grows stronger Abby’s friend Christopher (Kieran Culkin) watches on in silent frustration knowing that he’s the only one who has always been there for her. Together Richard and Abby help each other to realise that life is for living and not self-pity.
Never quite sure whether to be funny or heartfelt Unlikely Hero manages to fail at both in quite spectacular fashion. It wants to be a quirky dramatic comedy, perhaps akin to a Garden State or Juno, but never has the courage to follow through on some of its more outlandish ideas.
The imaginary friend angle has potential but husband and wife writer directors Kieran and Michele Mulroney use this more as a crux to fall back on when the plot wanes. And wane it does, stumbling like a drunk from scene to scene without ever offering anything resembling a coherent whole but rather vomiting up more themes that seem to have little to do with the previous one.
So, like Lisa Kudrow’s character for the majority of the film, you’re left feeling cold and a little dumbstruck by the bizarre events that unfold. It wants to be about a man reveling in his childish ways before leaving them behind, it wants to be about a young girl learning to forgive herself and move on with her life but the two together never gel. Instead, despite their protestations, you wonder if Richard and Abby have a sexual chemistry or a father-daughter relationship. It’s never clear until the end when it’s spelled out, by which time you’re left caring about as much as Richard seems to about his failing writing career.
A cast of this talent should never have to slum it with material this bad. Daniels, who is always better when not playing the man-child of his Dumb And Dumber days bumbles his way through looking typically bedraggled. It’s a far cry from the scintillating form he’s shown more recently on Aaron Sorkin’s excellent The Newsroom. Stone, who has repeatedly proven to be a mesmeric screen presence, mopes around presumably sulking at her character having little in the way of an interesting quirk other than she can make soup. Only Ryan Reynolds, whose role is so fleeting you wonder if he is in fact a figment of your imagination, looks like he’s having fun. His spandex clad Captain Excellent allowing Reynolds to indulge in some of his trademark swagger.
Lacking in story, character arc or anything resembling an emotional hook Unlikely Hero is unlikely to do anything other than bore.