A smart, funny take on the self-help industry has just the right combo of bite and heart to help "Walk the Talk" meet arthouse and sharper mainstream auds.

A smart, funny take on the self-help industry has just the right combo of bite and heart to help “Walk the Talk” meet arthouse and sharper mainstream auds. Lack of marquee wattage could see it stroll to HBO-type venues, where built-in viewers would take an instant shine to Cary Elwes’ career-goosing lead perf as an incorrigible podium thumper who struggles to practice what he preaches.

Exhorting his followers to “live the dream” and other diluted New Age homilies, Erik Naybor (Elwes) is a shorter, blonder Tony Robbins who lives in a terraced villa in the Hollywood Hills with perfect blond children and devoted-yet-feisty wife Jill (a somewhat underutilized Illeana Douglas), the better to push his successful life on tour and tube. Clan works out, travels and even sky-dives together, with frequent breaks for “conflict resolution.”

But their togetherness is tested when Erik’s teenage nephew gets into serious trouble. Faced with time in juvie, tough youngster Roy (impressive Evan Ellingson, seen on “24”) reluctantly agrees to let his semi-famous uncle take charge.

A life of dialoguing and health shakes does not come easily to the lad, who’s more used to cigarettes for breakfast and drugs for dessert. A little snooping, however, reveals that the good Naybors are not quite as squeaky-clean as they seem. Big cousin Cam (Chris Pratt) has a frat-boy mentality and a secret pot stash, and little sis Jessie (Katie Cassidy) is a bit of tease. Erik himself has some simmering anger issues, and Jill is starting to fret about hubby’s lack of interest in sack time.

Roy’s end of the family is strictly wrong-side-of-the-tracks material, which worries Erik, who has become the subject of a big magazine profile. (Kate Finneran’s bubbly reporter is only slightly more diligent than a New York Times reporter writing about Iraq.)

With all these farcical balls in the air, helmer-scripter Matthew Allen rather surprisingly doesn’t take the easy-comedy route to painting the family as increasingly empty hypocrites; nor does he turn Roy into a naive, if self-destructive saint. Instead, all main characters make real efforts to improve, so the humor remains strictly human without ever turning sanctimonious.

Given the work Allen puts into explaining how Roy is not related by blood to Erik, the helmer could have glancingly acknowledged the kid’s Eurasian appearance, which would bring another layer of meaning to the pic’s subtle comments on class and money in America. Interestingly, U.S.-made “Walk the Talk” was funded mostly in Sweden, where the Yank helmer has lived since 1991; many tech credits in this good-looking effort belong to Swedes and expats.

Walk the Talk

U.S. - Sweden

Production

A Sonet Film (Sweden) production, in co-production with Film i Vast, in association with TV3, the Chimney Pot (Sweden)/Sound Pictures (U.S.). (International sales: Sonet Film, Stockholm.) Produced by Jakim Hansson, Marco Henry, John Limotte. Executive producers, Doug Bernheim, Cary Elwes, Peter Possne. Co-producer, Chris Miller. Directed, written by Matthew Allen.

Crew

Camera (color), Terrence Hayes; editors, Sofia Lindgren, Michael Palmerio; music, Johan Soderquist, Eagle Eye Cherry; production designer, Anna Vogt; art director, Samuel Cordoba; costume designer, Tabitha Johnson; sound (Dolby), Karl W. Lohninger; line producer, George Paaswell; associate producers, Zoule Pitsiava, Mark Moran; assistant director, Brian O'Sullivan; casting, Susan Shopmaker. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival (New American Cinema), June 18, 2007. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Erik Naybor - Cary Elwes Jill - Illeana Douglas Roy - Evan Ellingson Jessie - Katie Cassidy Cam - Chris Pratt Reed - Clayne Crawford
With: Katie Finneran, Anson Mount, Katrina Begin, David Wilbur, Kenneth Choi.

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