Ten minutes into "Land Ho!," viewers who still haven't warmed up to the character of Mitch would be advised to sneak out and get a refund while there's time. The comically boorish protagonist is no more charming once you get to know him: Mitch remains like one of those embarrassing uncles whose behavior must be tolerated lest it ruin the holidays.
He's also the film's main attraction.
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"Land Ho"★ ★ ½
Starring: Earl Lynn Nelson, Paul Eenhoorn, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee
Directed by: Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz
Other: A Sony Pictures Classic release. Rated R for drug use, sexual situations and language. 95 minutes
Mitch is played by Earl Lynn Nelson, an untrained actor who happens to be the second cousin of Martha Stephens, who wrote and directed the film with Aaron Katz. Paul Eenhoorn, an Australian actor, plays Colin, Mitch's former brother-in-law who hasn't seen him in years.
We meet them as Mitch, a surgeon with plenty of disposable income, is giving his old friend an unexpected invitation: He has just bought a pair of first-class tickets to Iceland, and intends to pay all the expenses for a trip that will shake the cobwebs off their increasingly lonely lives. Reluctantly, Colin agrees.
Like his character, Nelson is a surgeon from the South, and everything from the faux-dramatic way he reads Lonely Planet blurbs aloud to the folksy vulgarity of his descriptions of women suggests that the real man's personality inspired the film. Stephens even fictionalizes her relationship to him. Not long after the friends settle into Reykjavik, Mitch gets an email saying that his own twenty-something second cousin Ellen (Karrie Crouse) has been traveling in Greenland and is flying over. Would Mitch mind picking up Ellen and her traveling companion (Katz's wife, Elizabeth McKee, a first-time screen actor) from the airport?
Ellen's a "hottie," Mitch tells Colin, and he believes that squiring two young women around town will help the men meet others. But after a long night in a bar that just reminds the men of their age, the two pairs go their separate ways, leaving the men to tour the rest of Iceland alone, in their rented Hummer.
Cinematographer Andrew Reed frames the scenes of human interaction nicely. But the film's pale color palette doesn't bring out the best in landscapes that inspire awe both in person and in such big-budget films as "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." (The next "Star Wars" film is reportedly shooting there as well, which adds some unintentional humor. A nighttime scene of Mitch and Colin arguing, illuminated only by two glow sticks they got in a night club, looks like a halfhearted showdown with miniature light sabers.)
Like most stars of road movies, they're an odd couple; unlike most, both the friction between them and their underlying loyalty feel real. We come to sympathize strongly with Colin, even though he says fairly little about his romantic setbacks. As for Mitch, who never shuts up, if you can stand him for 15 minutes, he'll probably keep you chuckling for an hour and a half.