Aaron Katz has made some good films. His last one, 2010’s Cold Weather, was a delightful and sharp Long Goodbye-style detective story riff that languidly bounced from tangent to tangent with often hilarious results without ever losing sight of its propulsive central mystery. Katz’s team-up with Martha Stephens (she made 2012’s Pilgrim Song, which I have not seen), Land Ho!, is full of respectable filmmaking acumen but contains none of the quirk that makes a movie rise above mere time-passing. It’s a pleasant enough experience on the surface but its lack of identity leaves a void into which rushes, whether intentionally or not, some of the more regrettable aspects of its lead characters.
Mitch (Pilgrim Song’s Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn from last year’s solid This Is Martin Bonner) are former brothers-in-law. They were married to women who were sisters. Now they are both divorced. Colin, in fact, is twice divorced. His second marriage recently imploded after the failure of a joint business venture that depleted most of his life’s savings. He needs some cheering up and a bit of time spent with the impulsive, gregarious, hedonistic Mitch just might do the trick. Mitch proves he means business in the cheering-up department by surprising Colin with first class plane tickets to Iceland. Mitch is a very successful and recently retired doctor and the Scandinavian road trip that Land Ho! becomes is his gift to his friend.
What sparks there are in Land Ho! come from Nelson and Eenhoorn. The massive, boisterous Mitch and the diminutive, reserved Colin make a perfectly mismatched pair. They complement one another but they also undercut one another in the way of true old friends. Colin calls Mitch on his crassness and Mitch calls Colin on his crotchetiness.
Even so, Mitch’s bluster wins out more often than not. It’s unclear what Katz and Stephens mean to say with their amiable and familiar tale but the message Land Ho! unwittingly imparts is that the boorish and inconsiderate behavior of someone like Mitch is permissible because he’s the one with money. Colin is the more sympathetic of the two by far but, as the broke guy, he’s largely relegated to second fiddle status.
Maybe all Katz and Stephens wanted to do with Land Ho! was make a travelogue about Iceland. If that’s true – if all they aimed for was to spark a desire to visit the country – they succeeded. The film is beautifully photographed by longtime Katz collaborator Andrew Reed and the time passes easily with a reasonable allotment of humor and pathos. Yet there’s not much to learn about Mitch and Colin and there’s even less to learn about Iceland other than that it’s pretty and, with enough money, you can have a really good week there.