Andrew Schwartz, Fox Searchlight
Wendy (Laura Linney) and Lenny (Philip Bosco) in "The Savages."
THE SAVAGES — *** — Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco; rated R (profanity, vulgarity, sex, drugs)

Though there are some mean-spirited and certainly some bad-taste elements to "The Savages," the film never really lives up to its title.

Of course, that doesn't mean this well-acted piece is a lighthearted comic romp. It's pretty dark and pointed stuff.

Also, some strong language and sexual content does ensure that the movie earns its R rating.

Getting back to the title, it actually refers to a family name. Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) is the aging family patriarch, though both his health and memory are failing him.

Worse, his long-time girlfriend recently died, so now her family is giving him the boot from the home they shared.

Unfortunately, that means Lenny's future well-being depends on the actions of his self-involved son and daughter, Jon and Wendy (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney).

The two estranged siblings grudgingly agree to fly out West from Buffalo to pick up their father. But they can't decide whether they should pay for a nursing home or make other housing arrangements for him.

Eventually, that decision is taken out of their hands, and Jon and Wendy are forced to move in together, with their father in town. But it's a high-stress arrangement, since their respective personal and professional lives are disastrous at best.

As you might have guessed, these are not the most likable characters. But screenwriter/director Tamara Jenkins ("Slums of Beverly Hills") is smart enough not to try to redeem any of these people — at least not in the traditional, cinematic sense.

She also gets terrific performances from her cast. On the surface, Bosco's dementia-riddled Lenny would seem to be the trickiest of the bunch to play, but it's Academy Award-nominee Linney who holds our attention as the increasingly guilt-ridden Wendy.

The always-watchable Hoffman even defers to Linney over the course of the movie, mirroring the way in which his on-screen character defers to Wendy.

"The Savages" is rated R for strong sexual language (profanity, crude slang and other suggestive talk), vulgar scatological humor and references, simulated sex and other sexual contact, and drug use and references (including misuse of prescription drugs). Running time: 113 minutes.


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