With a title font loosely modeled on that of The Marshall Tucker Band, The Wendell Baker Story shoots for a ‘70s Southern rock groove, mixing screwy humor, cheesily earnest romance, and anti-hero worship by way of the shaggy-dog tale of its titular slacker-loser. Wendell (Luke Wilson, who stars, co-wrote the script, and co-directs with brother Andrew) is a go-nowhere Texas hipster idiot in a classic Burt Reynolds mold, too cool for responsibility and too hot for a beauty like Doreen (Eva Mendes) to resist. Tossed in the clink for a carelessly run scam selling illegal driver’s licenses to migrant workers, cocky Wendell, who had been interested in entering the hotel industry because of his good people skills, is instead paroled and sent to work at Shady Grove retirement community, where evil head nurse Neil (Owen Wilson) and his sidekick McTeague (Eddie Griffin) are stealing Medicare checks from the residents. Wendell is thus forced to become a man, save his new elderly friends, and win back Doreen, who’s moved on and shacked up with a grocery story lame-o (Will Ferrell), an odyssey that brothers Luke and Andrew Wilson craft like a rambling, tongue-in-cheek love song sung on a porch at dusk with a cool Coors Light nearby.
Intermittently stupid and frequently funny—and sometimes both, as when an incarcerated Wendell negotiates a truce between the rival Crips and Aryans—it may not be the most riotous or artful project the Wilson brothers have been involved with, but its breezy, mellow tone and pleasant balance between random silliness and macho sincerity have a nice throwback charm. That The Wendell Baker Story‘s lyricism doesn’t completely ring true doesn’t completely derail the story’s underlying feelings of regret and loss, nor its fundamental belief in chasing what you want and cherishing what you’ve got. And if its nostalgia is a bit creaky, it’s nonetheless also delivered with great heart, the film’s fondness for the old school joyously conveyed by old-timers Seymour Cassel and Harry Dean Stanton, who—via their characters’ individual narrative arcs, as well as their hilarious, cagey performances—prove that even if the equipment is a little rusty, you’re never really too old to rock n’ roll.