Based on the appeal of the two lead characters and performers, a better title for this diverting, if frequently trod, buddy movie would be Palmer’s Way. James LeGros brings considerable charm to Palmer “The Bomber” Van Dyke, thus leaving his new pal, stuffy law student Sherman Black (Michael Shulman), in the dust. Though it also boasts an attractive setting and bright tech credits, Sherman’s Way is handicapped by wholesale predictability. As its popularity with festival audiences demonstrates, it’s an indie moviegoers will be inclined to applaud and critics will treat with indifference. Neither reaction will have much of an impact on its financial performance.
Everyone knows there’s more to life than legal briefs and courtroom lucre. Only a movie pinhead like Sherman needs it spelled out by a middle-aged ski bum such as Palmer. We’re introduced to Manhattan-raised Sherman as he’s about to get dumped by his exasperated girlfriend Marcy (Lacey Chabert), who’s come east from her father’s California winery to study law at Yale. Meanwhile Palmer and his leashed cat are spotted at a used car dealership in the Golden State. He has his eye on an MG Roadster and offers his promotional services—decades ago, he competed in the Winter Olympics—in exchange for the red convertible. After Sherman bolts his coveted summer internship to surprise Marcy in No Cal, the male incompatibles meet on a picturesque country road. Wild-eyed, hirsute Palmer screeches to a halt and offers the hitchhiking legal eagle in training a ride.
What follows is obvious but enjoyable. Sherman needs an overhaul even more than the Roadster. Pressured by his ambitious mother, he’s obsessed with money and plotting his path to success. Palmer seems to just roll along, taking life as it comes. They hang at his friend DJ’s lakeside abode, refurbishing the car so Palmer can give it to his estranged son as a graduation gift. They savor good food and drink and Sherman experiences the satisfaction of working with his hands. Upon learning he can’t swim or drive, we know a skinny-dipping scene and driving lessons loom around the bend. So what? LeGros is still funny and the montages and gentle sitcom wit go down more easily in wine country.
Sherm’s dorky single-mindedness is oversold early on, so when he finds his new groove and decides to pursue the beautiful Addy (Brooke Nevin), it’s hard to believe she’d be interested. Then again, there’s no telling with quirky free spirits who paint sexy pictures on motorcycle gas tanks. Child-actor turned producer Shulman acquits himself professionally without bringing any dynamism. LeGros’s performance and Colantoni’s quiet authority as DJ offset his and the character’s limitations. Donna Murphy’s turn as his high-powered mother is a plausibly theatrical addition.
Filmed north of Napa and east of Mendocino in Lake County, California, Sherman’s Way has a shiny, alluring innocence. Joaquin Sedillo’s lensing does both the terrain and the movie’s sentiments justice. Yes, some will rule it’s liable for criminal corniness, but plenty of schmaltzier lessons have trundled down the road. The key is not to ding this one for being too familiar or for being an upbeat comedy rather than a doleful drama. While its pleasures may be downplayed by those weary of (and paid to be wary of) recycled earnestness, Sherman’s Way suggests originality can be overrated.
International Film Circuit
Cast: Michael Shulman, James LeGros, Enrico Colantoni, Brooke Nevin, Donna Murphy, Lacey Chabert, Tom Nance and Thomas Ian Nicholas
Director: Craig M. Saavedra
Screenwriter: Tom Nance
Producers: Craig M. Saavedra, Tom Nance and Michael Shulman
Running time: 97 min
Release date: March 6 NY