A catharsis is supposed to be a release. It should not be sprinkled through a movie like character treats, and, for goodness' sake, you cannot open with one.
Such a beginning is especially foreboding in a movie like “The Boys Are Back,” a sentimental drama about a recently widowed man (Clive Owen), learning to raise a young son (Nicholas McAnulty) by himself while trying to reconnect with another (George MacKay) by a different marriage.
When we first meet Joe (Owen) he's driving along an Australian beach, where people are hollering at him because he's got little mop-headed Artie (McAnulty) riding on the hood, whooping as they splash through the surf. From there the movie takes a detour into the recent past, where it details Joe's wife's (Laura Fraser) brief and losing battle with cancer, then careens back to the present, where Joe struggles to handle his career, child care and the growing drifts of dust and dishes back at the homestead.
Joe invites his other boy, Harry (MacKay), for a summer visit, in part to help and in part to feel more like a family again. There's a bit of creative license being taken in assuming that last part, because while the movie's plot is unambiguous, it's never clear what it's supposed to be about, never mind why we're supposed to care.
Kind of like Joe's house, “The Boys Are Back” is an unkempt mess, shot with the stale competence of a drug commercial but full of unfinished story strands, inconsequential details and half-developed characters. Examples of things brought up but completely forgotten by the end include Artie's unsettling indifference to losing his mom, Joe's love interest (Emma Booth) and his apparent firing from a high profile reporting gig at a big newspaper. The boys are back, Joe, but how are you going to support them?
The only reliable, recurring element is the handy moments of catharsis, an expression of relief that the director, Scott Hicks (“No Reservations”), uses to patch the movie at every opportunity. For some reason they always involve gleeful leaping through water. You may want to follow suit, but for very different reasons. (PG-13) 100 min. HH