You know you’re deep in the midst of Oscar season when you see a movie that exists exclusively due to a single performance. ‘Kodachrome’ is based on a true story that’s inspirational and blah blah blah… The truth is, the only reason this movie will be released and discussed is because Ed Harris delivers one hell of a performance in the middle of it.
That’s certainly not enough to save this maudlin mess from its manipulative low points, but it could be enough to get Harris some awards attention.
Unfortunately, he’s not the main character. That would be Jason Sudeikis doing one of those “serious yet still sarcastic roles” that he’s been specializing in since leaving ‘SNL’. In this case he plays Matt Ryder, a record label exec who’s brilliant at spotting talent but horrible at producing hits. He’s had a streak of close calls with big bands and bad deals with lame ones that just might cost him his job. The guy has a week to sign a big fish, and to add to the pressure, his estranged father, Ben (hi, Ed Harris!), just got in touch. Daddy’s a famous photographer with a few rolls of film he needs to get across the country to be developed before Kodak discontinues the stock. He’s also dying of cancer, so he wants Matt to come for a variety of reasons. To make things extra interesting, Ben also has a beautiful, damaged, and single nurse/assistant joining him on the road who just might be perfect for Matt! Let the inspirational father/son bonding and road trip romance clichés commence!
Even though ‘Kodachrome’ is based on a news article and actual events, the whole movie plays as a checklist of inspirational drama clichés. There’s a lot of bickering that of course just might conceal love beneath the surface. There are plenty of monologues where characters work out all of their problems at once. There’s a “Will they/won’t they?” love story sure to create drama among the central trio. There are plenty of suggestions that creating art is like living life (whoa!). And most irritating of all, there are those film canisters of photos that Ben has saved throughout his life that he needs his son to develop with him. Hmmmm… I wonder what those could be? Everything plays out in the most irritatingly obvious ways. The jokes aren’t funny and the drama is rarely moving. The visuals look like a sappy credit card Christmas commercial. It’s pretty brutal.
Somehow, the filmmakers assembled a central cast better than the lame script deserves, and the main trio are immensely watchable. Sudeikis struggles while making serious faces, but gets by with oodles of charm. Olsen is stuck with a deeply limited character, but acts so hard that you almost believe her. Best of all is Ed Harris playing a genius crank who has alienated everyone around him while producing beautiful art. Watching him slowly reveal cracks in an embittered façade is remarkable. The guy singlehandedly makes the whole mess watchable and lends creditability to an otherwise awful movie. It could be enough to get him awards attention. It was certainly enough to get this crappy movie made, for better or worse.