The Hero (Movie Review)

The HeroAn appropriate tagline for “The Hero” might be: “Look how hard we’re working for an Oscar!” One can see the checklist being marked off as the film introduces itself: an aged Hollywood actor trying to redeem himself, a romance with a younger woman, cancer, dreamlike symbolism, and an estranged daughter.

Sam Elliot stars as Lee Hayden, a former Western star, now relegated to recording forgettable BBQ commercial voice-overs. Mostly living off residuals, he spends his days hanging out with his pot dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman), who is also a former co-star on a short-lived TV show. In what seems like the same hour, Lee finds out he is going to be given a lifetime achievement award from the Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild and that he has pancreatic cancer. It’s a cruel world. It’s at Jeremy’s home he meets stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon), where a flirtatious banter leads to her being his date to the award dinner. His acceptance speech goes viral and soon he’s receiving calls from agents all over town and eventually a big audition, where he’ll have to recite a monologue in which he explains why he wasn’t a good father.

And I haven’t even mentioned the upcoming dinner planned with his angry daughter.

There’s a lot going on in “The Hero,” and at 90 minutes (give or take), it all comes out undercooked. There’s the scent throughout of a cheap cover of old cliches, and unfortunately, the guidance of Sam Elliot can’t save the film from the greatest film sin of all: boredom.

As the love interest, Laura Prepon has a couple good moments, but for the rest, she’s lifelessly sleepwalking through the scenes, restlessly waiting for her next line so she can go off and do something better. Nick Offerman fares a bit better, injecting the haughty film with some much-needed humor. Coming out looking the worst is Krysten Ritter. As a daughter who grew up with an absentee father, she accepts his invitation to lunch some may be able to salvage a damaged relationship. If you’ve ever seen any other film about family drama, you might be able to guess what happens. Ritter looks lost in her short screen time, giving a slightly robotized performance.

Sam Elliot knows how to hold his audience’s attention, able to mold the blandest dialogue into something captivating. There’s a hard life we see behind his eyes, reinforced with the words between his teeth. It may be captivating, but the script prevents it from being wholly convincing. Director Brett Haley presents us with archetypes, hoping that our familiarity will be sufficient to play to our emotions without actually making any attempt to earn those reactions.

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