As much as I enjoy Christopher Walken chasing his every last oddball whim and a story that takes a road trip through the pit stops of America, it's just not enough to make the dramedy "Five Dollars a Day" interesting. Dreadfully formulaic and absent a thoughtful emotional core, the picture is best valued as a forgettable trifle starring Hollywood's most enduring weirdo.
With a prison stint in his past making it difficult to hold down a job and his girlfriend (Amanda Peet) leaving him due to his inability to be honest, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) is at the end of his rope. Receiving a message that his estranged father Nat (Christopher Walken) is dying, Flynn travels to New Jersey to check up on a man he despises. A grifter who spends his days living as cheaply as possible, Nat reveals he has a brain tumor, looking for someone to drive him to New Mexico for an experimental medical treatment. Reluctantly, Flynn agrees to the task, and the two take to the road, following a specially prepared map that highlights all the freebies along the way. At first agitated, Flynn grows to appreciate his father as their adventure takes them to surprising places and alarming revelations.
With Nigel Cole in the director's chair, there's not much to expect with "Five Dollars a Day." The mind behind "A Lot Like Love" and "Calendar Girls" plays it very simply here, sticking with a hardened road trip formula provided by screenwriters Tippi and Neal H. Dobrofsky, who scoop up a heap of familiarity to mold their characterizations and tensions. It's a sleepy picture, leaning on the universal pain of domestic distress, looking to bang out some laughs and tears as Flynn and Nat get to know each other all over again, using long stretches of interstate travel as their confessional booth.
You've seen it all before, in far better films too, which leaves the cast responsible for adding some spark to the proceedings. Walken is Walken here, playing up his idiosyncrasy to keep Nat in a place of appeal. Extending vowels, looking in the wrong directions, and dancing, Walken puts in a minor effort, basically relying on his own persona to fill out the character. Nat's penny-pinching mania is amusing to behold (the pair drive around in a car plastered with a Sweet'N Low skin -- one of many product placement opportunities in the picture), but there's no depth to the man, no real consequence. However, Walken's interplay is strong with Nivola, and the two make a plausible family. Adding some needed spice is Sharon Stone, here as a viciously spray-tanned friend of the family, who offers the boys a warm bed and herself for the night. Stone makes quite an impression.
The AVC encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation on the "Five Dollars a Day" BD is best with outdoor environments, where the clear blue skies and orange sunsets can provide an evocative pull to the motion picture. There's a great feel to the road trip sequences, which make good use of color and location particulars. Facial detail is strong, capturing the minutiae of Walken's grimaces and indication, while skintones are successfully sustained, adding immensely to Stone's orange-coated character. Shadow detail is consistent, though the film sticks to as many brightly lit locations as it can, not offering much of a challenge to the dark details.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is a fairly subdued event that keeps primarily to dialogue exchanges, focusing on vocal clarity over a robust dimensional experience. Atmospherics are light, consisting mostly of crowds and restaurant clatter, along with some boardwalk thrill-ride activity in the opening reel. Conversations are crisp and frontal with nothing lost, comfortably balanced with a few soundtrack selections and light scoring.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
"Interviews" (35:09) sit down with Nigel Cole, Alessandro Nivola, Sharon Stone, Dean Cain, Peter Coyote, and Amanda Peet to discuss how they found their way to the film, with emphasis on motivation and backstage platitudes. The chats are conducted on-set, and, curiously, Christopher Walken decided to pass on the opportunity to prattle on for promotional purposes.
"Still Galleries" are provided.
And a Theatrical Trailer is included.
Coming to a boil with a question of paternity, "Five Dollars a Day" begins to take itself seriously in the final reel, which is pure death to the fragile script. Better as a mild comedy with interesting tips on how to swindle anything or anyone in sight, the film rolls along smoothly when keeping to uncomfortable spaces of miscommunication. Anything more requires a sharper premise and a more invested set of actors to expertly pull off.