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FLIX: 'The Discoverers'

By BY JOE FRIAR
May 21, 2014 at 12:21 a.m.

Dreama Walker, Devon Graye, Griffin Dunne, Madeleine Martin and Ann Dowd in "The Discoverers."

THE DISCOVERERS

• CAST: Griffin Dunne, Madeleine Martin, Stuart Margolin, Cara Buono, Devon Graye, Dreama Walker, David Rasche, John C. McGinley, Becky Ann Baker, Ann Dowd

• DIRECTOR: Justin Schwarz

• Opened May 16 in New York and May 30 in Los Angeles

Recently, I spoke with Griffin Dunne about his new film, "The Discoverers." I asked him what it was like working with first-time writer/director Justin Schwarz after working with such greats as Martin Scorsese, John Landis, Robert Redford, Sidney Lumet and Luc Besson.

He said it was a gamble because you just don't know how a film is going to turn out, but he believed in the script, and the gamble paid off for Dunne, who is very proud of this funny and heartfelt film.

Dunne plays history professor Lewis Birch, whose career is in a downturn. He's barely hanging onto his job at a non-accredited community college in Chicago, and a book he's written about explorers Lewis and Clark has been rejected by every publisher except one, who will print the tome if it's edited down from 6,000 pages to 500.

Lewis picks up his moody teenage kids, Zoe (Madeleine Martin, "Californication") and Jack (Devon Graye, "American Horror Story") and heads to Portland for a conference to pitch his book. He gets sidetracked by news about his mother, so he ends up in Idaho, where he finds his mom deceased and his estranged father, Stanley (Stuart Margolin), in a catatonic state.

This is also the weekend that Stanley takes part in the annual Lewis and Clark re-enactment trek, so Lewis decides to grab the kids and head into the woods to keep an eye on his unstable dad. Once there, the family must surrender all modern technology (cellphones) and change into period clothing to re-enact the 1804 expedition.

There are some funny moments as the historically obsessed Stanley interacts with his less-than-enthused son and grandkids and some warmhearted scenes as Lewis tries to reconnect with his withdrawn father.

Dunne's career has spanned more than 40 years, and he shines as the patriarch of this dysfunctional family; it's great to see him back in a lead role. Martin as the wisecracking vegan daughter, Zoe, also standouts in the film, and the two help create a father-daughter bond that feels authentic and earnest. Much like Lewis and Clark in the 19th century, the Birch family is on a road to discovery as they rediscover each other in the 21st.

RATING: 31/2 stars

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Houston Film Critics Society and juror at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival. He reviews films every Friday on Hit Radio 104.7 KVIC. Contact Joe at jfriar95@gmail.com.

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