'Henry Poole,' Learning To Love His Neighbors

Luke Wilson i i

Though Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) once was lost... Saeed Adyani/Overture hide caption

itoggle caption Saeed Adyani/Overture
Luke Wilson

Though Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) once was lost...

Saeed Adyani/Overture

Henry Poole Is Here

  • Director: Mark Pellington
  • Genre: Spiritual Melodrama
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Rated PG: Adult themes, but handled with kid gloves.

Luke Wilson and Radha Mitchell i i

... now he's found, or at least he's on the way, with the help of an angelic blonde named Dawn (Radha Mitchell). Saeed Adyani/Overture hide caption

itoggle caption Saeed Adyani/Overture
Luke Wilson and Radha Mitchell

... now he's found, or at least he's on the way, with the help of an angelic blonde named Dawn (Radha Mitchell).

Saeed Adyani/Overture

Religious mysticism and self-help homilies get whipped into a spiritual smoothie by Henry Poole Is Here, a sweet-natured flick with a strong aftertaste of phoniness. It's a parable of averted martyrdom that turns on a Roman Catholic notion of the miraculous — but its fundamental message is closer to a Hallmark card than to the New Testament.

The title character is the new guy on the block, played by Luke Wilson, Owen's dark-haired, less annoying brother. Henry moves into a nondescript suburban L.A. neighborhood, burdened by a couple of easily guessed secrets.

He intends to keep the neighbors at bay, but they immediately come knocking.

Henry's brooding is disturbed first by Esperanza (Babel nanny Adriana Barraza), who loved the house's previous occupant. Then comes 6-year-old Millie (Morgan Lily), who doesn't speak but communicates with Henry by taping his conversations and playing them back within earshot.

She's followed by her mom, Dawn (Radha Mitchell), who's sympathetic, beautiful and clearly available. Henry also encounters a supermarket clerk, Patience (Rachel Seiferth), who's unusually concerned about the unhealthful contents of his shopping cart.

All these people need some kind of salvation, and Esperanza thinks she's found it when she discerns a familiar face in a water stain on the wall of Henry's new bungalow: It's Jesus, she announces. Esperanza's priest (George Lopez) is consulted, and her friends arrive at Henry's place, looking for miracles.

This being a parable, those will come, although Henry grumpily attempts to resist them — which proves as futile as his efforts to keep pilgrims from trampling his yard as they line up to venerate the new shrine.

Barraza almost makes Esperanza believable, and the other performances are generally engaging, even if Wilson is too one-dimensional for his role. He's good at grouchy, but he never really comes out of his funk, even when the film insists he has. Director Mark Pellington tries to compensate by regularly injecting songs by high-profile pop acts, including Bob Dylan, Blur, Eels and Lisa Gerrard.

Pellington, who's done mainstream thrillers and lots of work for U2 (including U2 3D), treats the ambiguous image of Jesus quite seriously. Henry Poole is not exactly The Passion of the Christ, but it's a film that true believers might well presume shares their beliefs.

Yet the movie doesn't insist that Henry needs Jesus. What he requires are the nonsectarian qualities for which three of his new friends are named: patience, hope ("esperanza," in Spanish) and rebirth (that is, dawn).

"All that either of us have is right now," Dawn tells Henry — and that's the sort of mock-Zen maxim that Henry Poole offers as gospel.

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