THE BOYS ARE BACK
Clive Owen is one of those extremely talented actors whose movies rarely make a lot of money, be they good (Children of Men), bad (Derailed) or indifferent (King Arthur). The Boys Are Back, a low-key melodrama based on a memoir by Simon Carr, promises to follow suit, with Owen's star turn not enough to compensate for either the uneven script by Allan Cubitt or the inert direction by Scott Hicks (Shine).
Owen plays Joe Warr, a British sportswriter living in Australia with his 6-year-old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). Joe's wife Katy (Laura Fraser) has recently succumbed to cancer, and Dad has no idea how to maintain a household or raise a son on his own. To complicate matters, his son from his first marriage, the teenage Harry (George MacKay), comes to stay with them for a while, and Joe is lost when it comes to handling this lad as well. He ends up adopting an "anything goes" style of child-rearing: setting no rules, doling out no punishment, and generally avoiding any semblance of responsible parenting. Naturally, other adults take issue with his chosen lifestyle.
The Boys Are Back is so static that there are no emotional peaks or valleys; instead, every scene seems to operate on the same flatline. That's a shame, because Owen is just fine as the caring but clueless father, and he's especially potent in the scenes in which he's squabbling with the other grownups who are forced to resort to varying degrees of tough love to convince him that he's on the wrong track.
As long as Cubitt keeps his script grounded, it overcomes Hicks' lackadaisical direction, but beware of the awkward interludes in which Joe chats with his dead wife, or the stilted sequences that are interjected more for plot propulsion than anything else (such as the mishap that occurs when Joe leaves the kids home alone).
In short, The Boys Are Back is at its strongest when it keeps it real. Unfortunately, much like its lead character, it lacks the discipline to always do what's best.