The rather unassuming "Land Ho" is a bit like an amiable Iceland travelogue with plentiful shots of the country's stunning landscape and two aging gents as tour guides -- one randy and gregarious, the other refined and reticent.
But don't be misled. "Land Ho!" is full of surprises, rich in the way it noses around the rocky terrain of aging in an indifferent world through the engaging performances of its two stars.
A couple of 70ish brothers-in-law reconnect during a trip to Iceland years after drifting apart, divided by death and divorce. Veteran Aussie American actor Paul Eenhoorn portrays the more retiring Colin, and New Orleans plastic surgeon Earl Lynn Nelson is the irrepressible Mitch.
Mitch has snagged an unsuspecting Colin into going with him with first-class tickets and promises of hot mineral springs and beautiful "broads," as he so eloquently puts it.
The co-stars' disparate backgrounds are intriguing enough, but it is the friendship they create on-screen that is something special.
The film is the brainchild of Martha Stephens, who wrote and directed with Aaron Katz. Nelson is the indie filmmaker's second cousin, and if you've seen any of Stephens' work -- "Passenger Pigeon" and especially 2012's "Pilgrim Song" -- you've gotten a taste of the good doc's rib-tickling mischief. It was only a matter of time until Nelson took center stage. Though for all his irrepressible bonhomie, it turns out he shares it quite nicely with Eenhoorn.
After Colin's protests are squashed, a comfortable everyday-ness settles in. The guys take turns reading from the travel guide on the flight as the discussion dances around what each of them mightactually want to do. There are hints that while they may be friends and relations, they are not necessarily compatible travelers.
So natural are these conversations, it can seem as if the filmmakers merely let the guys ramble and got director of photography Andrew Reed to capture the interplay. But only a few moments in the film are improvised; most of those easy exchanges and testy disagreements are tightly scripted. The pair's chilly wait for a geyser to blow offers up an entertaining look at what the actors can do with a little downtime.
When a much younger cousin of Mitch turns up in Reykjavik with a friend for a fast 24 hours, Mitch turns it into a grand adventure, sending the backpacking grad students off with his credit card to buy clothes suitable for a night on the club scene. For all of his suggestive teasing, there is something so harmless about it that you immediately know he's all talk.
The trip begins in earnest when the guys head out to explore rural Iceland, which is most of Iceland. There are mishaps and magical encounters and more incredible shots of the countryside, but mostly there is Mitch and Colin's running conversation. Casually, the issues both men are working through begin to seep in.
For Mitch, who like Nelson is a surgeon, it is the retirement he's been forced into. For Colin, it's about mending a heart broken by divorce. For both, it is aging itself. Neither is ready to be written off.
Stephens and Katz manage to maintain a singular style and voice throughout. The filmmakers have a good sense of knowing when to break from the boys to weave in some of the sights, or put another human encounter or complication in their path.
The Iceland weather may be cold, but the conversations are warm, and as Colin begins to thaw, it becomes a gentle reminder that life is something to be embraced. And that it is never too late to grab it with whatever gusto you've got.
* * *
Rating: R (some language, sexual references and drug use)
Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson
Director: Martha Stephens and ron Katz
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes