Review: ‘Land Ho!’ Engages, Modestly

'Land Ho!"
‘Land Ho!”

A rambling, shambling, yet modest road movie, Land Ho! plucks two unlikely suspects from their usual surroundings and strands them at random in the gorgeous landscapes of Iceland.

It’s a shaggy dog story that is often amusing and rarely illuminating, following two senior citizens, loquacious Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and reticent Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), as they amble around the country and occasionally make new friends. Former brothers-in-law who still keep in touch after divorcing from their wives, they appear to have little in common beyond the similarity of their lonely circumstances.

As befits any commonplace Hollywood fantasy, Mitch is a wealthy former physician who is paying for the trip. He is a rambunctious, lusty man who is friendly to all, and especially open toward strangers. Often veering into vulgarity, he obviously gets on Colin’s nerves quite frequently, but the Australian Colin, a formerly symphony musician who became a banker, is much too polite to do more than wrinkle his face whenever he’s offended by Mitch.

The film, written and directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, gives the appearance of being largely improvised, as though the filmmakers arrived in Iceland with their two actors and declared, “Let’s make a movie!” Land Ho! is much more than a home movie — the visual compositions and consistently engaging atmospheres are markers of experienced filmmakers — yet it drives around the country as as a very loosely constructed vehicle, bumping over slopes and valleys in the roadways, taking departures and arrivals into account as part of an endless cycle.

Thus, when Mitch’s young relative and her friend (Karrie Crouse and Elizabeth McKee) arrive “by chance,” it’s a welcome diversion; when a comely photographer (Alice Olivia Clarke) shows up at a remote location, it’s a lovely distraction. These people are temporary, as are all things in the latter stages of life for Mitch and Colin. The end is closer than the beginning for them, but no sense worrying about that; it’s far better to enjoy the side trips and sidelong glances and the beauty of their surroundings than to be concerned about things you can’t control.

As Mitch, Nelson’s larger-than-life characterization is either endearing or irritating. (OK, I’m in the “irritating” camp, I’m afraid.) His aggressively garrulous personality is enjoyable in small chunks, and the filmmakers push this about as far as it can go — or perhaps a bit further. As Colin, the fussy and persnickety one, Eenhoorn’s patience and long-suffering are put to the test, though he displays his own shortcomings.

In the end, Land Ho! stops rather than concludes. This is an episode in the lives of Mitch and Colin; it’s far from the first, and if all goes well, they’ll have a few more, charming and fussing and fighting and walking carefully and confidently in the soft, burnished final days that we can only hope will last for a very long time.

The film opens on Friday, August 15, at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano.