‘Land Ho!’ falls short of its destination

What a strange film is “Land Ho!” It’s a road movie where the characters don’t drive farther than a few hundred kilometers, a mismatched buddy comedy where the two men aren’t really buddies, a weird coming-of-age story – perhaps that should be a “coming into youth” story – where the two leads are pushing 70.

It takes place mostly in an exotic, beautiful locale, Reykjavik and the countryside of rural Iceland, where an American and an Australian travel in search of stimulation. It has all the ingredients of a charming narrative but doesn’t cook them into anything savory.

The voyagers are Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), a New Orleans surgeon who has mysteriously quit practicing, and Colin (Paul Eenhorn), an Australian living in Kentucky who has retired from managing a bank. They were formerly married to sisters: Colin’s wife has recently died, and Mitch’s spouse has shown good judgment by fleeing him, so Mitch decides they need mutual cheering up and buys first-class tickets to Iceland.

They make an odd couple indeed. The reserved Colin has unplumbed depths of feeling and slowly lightens up on the trip. Mitch remains a genial loudmouth who listens to nothing anyone says and remains oblivious to other people’s feelings, including Colin’s.

When they go to an art museum, Colin looks at a nude self-portrait and wonders about the painter’s feelings of oppression and loneliness; Mitch analyzes her private parts and the likelihood that she’d be good in bed. His horndog bleatings never stop; he flirts with all women, including his cousin’s daughter, until his crudity and desperation become creepy. He sees a metaphoric penis in a lighthouse, and an erupting geyser – well, you get the idea.

What did writer-directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens want us to make of Mitch? He lies about the reason he left medicine, and we never learn the true story. He’s friendly and well-wishing but selfish and unobservant. The patient Colin tolerates his amiable bullying without encouraging it, and he’s grateful to abandon this boor briefly and go off with a younger hiker. (Here the movie takes an unbelievable wish-fulfillment turn.)

The picture has been billed as “a candid exploration of aging” by the distributor, but it barely touches on the subject – except, of course, to remind us we should never close ourselves off to new experiences. Colin gradually becomes less depressed and more relaxed, but Mitch remains the same cocky attention-hog from start to finish.

Shots of Iceland, on the other hand, provide endless pleasure: the two-tiered waterfall Gullfoss, the iceberg-filled lagoon at Jökulsárlón, the black volcanic earth steaming near Vik. Reykjavik remains one of the world’s most inviting capital cities, with its central lake and mix of classic and modern architecture.

This movie would inspire anyone to visit Europe’s westernmost nation – as long as there was no likelihood they’d bump into Mitch.

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