- Rated PG
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All photos © Overture Films
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ending someone like myself to cover a film like “Henry Poole Is Here” is kind of like sending a vegetarian to a meat processors convention. You can deliver the greatest sales pitch in history, but you’re not going to convince that person to bite into a cow, nor will you convince me that God really exists. A pro-religion dramedy about rediscovering one’s faith, “Henry Poole Is Here” isn’t necessarily a bad film – in fact, it features one of Luke Wilson’s best performances to date – but unless you’re willing to buy in to its ridiculous premise, you probably won't like the way it ends.
Wilson stars as the title character, a middle-aged businessman who literally has nothing to live for. After being diagnosed with a rare disease that will kill him within months, Henry buys a rundown house in a Los Angeles suburb, stocks his fridge with lots of booze, frozen pizzas and Krispy Kreme donuts, and lays around waiting for the inevitable to happen. When a nosy neighbor named Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) claims to see the image of Christ in a stain on the outside of his new home, however, Henry’s backyard is turned into a breeding ground for devout tourists hoping to get a peek at the Second Coming. Henry is quick to deny the possibility that the stain is a sign from God (he even tries to scrub it out with bleach), but as more and more people begin to experience their own personal miracles just by touching it, he’s forced to question his own faith.
In a role reminiscent of his turn as the depressed tennis pro in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Luke Wilson proves once again that he’s at his best when allowed to flex his comic muscle in more serious fare. Unfortunately, while he does get some laughs in the early minutes, the movie never fully capitalizes on the opportunity to become a full-fledged dark comedy. Instead, it just flirts with the idea before ultimately turning into something a little more... conventional. The rest of the cast members aren’t nearly as effective, either. Radha Mitchell, in particular, is incredibly one-note as Henry's single-mother love interest, while Adriana Barraza (who brought to life one of the most annoying characters of 2006 in "Babel"), is twice the nuisance as his God-loving neighbor. Only Rachel Seiferth truly sticks out from the pack, but the young up-and-comer is hardly given any time to shine.
For a movie that starts off surprisingly unbiased, “Henry Poole Is Here” becomes so determined in convincing its audience that these miracles are really happening, that it ceases to exist as a possibility, and simply becomes fact. It gets to the point where it’s no longer being preachy, but downright insulting to anyone who refuses to jump on the bandwagon. Movies shouldn’t isolate their audiences, but that’s exactly what this film does. Either you believe it or you don’t, but God help if you don’t, because you'd be wrong. Director Mark Pellington must enjoy trying to convert nonbelievers that unproven fact is true, because he did exactly the same thing with his 2002 horror film “The Mothman Prophecies.” He failed to convince me then, and he’s just as unsuccessful the second time around, but whereas “Mothman” was an illogical bore, “Henry Poole Is Here” manages to at least be mildly entertaining.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Those expecting a wealth of special features on the DVD release of “Henry Poole Is Here” should prepare to be disappointed. In fact, the extras that do appear aren’t even that great. The commentary with director Mark Pellington and writer Albert Torres is a snorefest, while the making-of featurette isn’t much better. Two music videos round out the set, but unless you know Ron Irizarry (the winner of the MySpace theme song contest who performs on one of the videos), don't bother.