Raymond And Ray Review: A Tale Of Two Brothers, And Two Wasted Performances From Ethan Hawke And Ewan McGregor

Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor: two heartthrobs of the '90s and early 2000s, together in one movie. What could go wrong? Well, when you have a dour drama about two half-brothers who reunite to bury their estranged father, it turns out, quite a lot.

"Raymond and Ray" is the new comedy-drama written and directed by Rodrigo García and produced by Alfonso Cuarón, which doesn't have much in the way of comedy, or much in the way of chemistry between two of our most charismatic leading actors. Instead, it's a bafflingly dull road trip movie full of clunky expositional dialogue like "How's your son who you haven't spoken to in several years?" and bizarre acting choices from a cast who seem to have varying degrees of familiarity with the script. Worst yet, it wastes the potential silver screen magic you could have by casting Hawke and McGregor as once-close brothers who are forced together by a death that they both have difficulty grieving.

Six feet under

Raymond (McGregor) and Ray (Hawke) haven't seen each other in years. Once inseparable as young boys, the two of them have long separated from each other and the father who used to emotionally abuse and neglect them. Now Raymond is a buttoned-up salesman whose strict adherence to routine keeps him from dwelling too long on his divorce and his distant son, while Ray lives off the grid in an isolated cabin littered with tokens from past flings and reminders of a career as a musician he had abandoned.

Then, one rainy night, Raymond shows up at Ray's door with a message: their dad is dead, and his last request was to have his sons dig his grave. Ray instantly objects — they both hated their dad, whose lothario ways ended up hurting both their moms and them — but the two begrudgingly make their way down to the small town where their father is to be buried. And strangely, they are greeted with a hero's welcome — everyone, from their father's lawyer (Oscar Nunez, feeling out of place here) to the funeral director to their father's latest mistress (Maribel Verdú, of "Y tu mamá también" fame) loved their father and thought of him warmly — and are all surprised to hear Raymond and Ray spew vitriol towards him. But if you think that this is a movie where two men come to terms with the idea that their father was a complicated human being who they didn't know fully, leading them to reexamine their own lives and the cycle of abuse they perpetuate (lord knows this year's movies have been all about generational trauma), you'd be sorely mistaken.

Perhaps there's something to be said in the way that "Raymond and Ray" dangles the promise of familial catharsis in front of its two protagonists by going through all the beats of a standard inspirational character drama, but I don't think it's that deep. Raymond and Ray's father remains nothing more than a phantom who continues to torture them from beyond the grave with increasingly absurd demands and an even more absurd amount of secret sons. And all the while, the pain that Raymond and Ray carry with them is slowly unveiled in painstakingly stiff dialogue that turns their father's abusive behavior towards them into a plot twist.

Oh brother

But perhaps the combined star power of the two leads could save "Raymond and Ray" from being a complete waste of time? Hawke does do his darndest — the film's dialogue-heavy approach means that the actor who cut his teeth on Gen X mumblecore and Richard Linklater's "Before" movies meant that he was in his element, and could elevate even the most exposition-heavy monologues. Ask Hawke to bring an easy naturalism to a role, and it's as, well, natural to him as breathing.

But McGregor, on the other hand, is alarmingly bad in this film. His line delivery is wooden, his enunciation too heavily pronounced as if he's reading every line for the first time, and his voice sounded like he was caught between his Obi-Wan Kenobi voice and some strange American accent. He was so unnatural — especially compared to Hawke's shaggy naturalism — that it made me wonder if he was ever good at acting. Or might it have been the fault of Garcia, who has worked with McGregor before and perhaps didn't give him enough direction to get out of his own head. Or it might have been a (bizarre) character choice, to suggest that Raymond is so closed off and buttoned down that he barely acts like a real human. Whatever the case, it put a damper on any potential chemistry between Hawke and McGregor, though not for Hawke's lack of trying.

There's really little to write home about for "Raymond and Ray," which in addition to poor dialogue and strange acting choices, is visually rather pedestrian. There's not much you can hope for with a standard road trip movie such as this, but it's so static and, at times, stagnant, that you any hint of excitement or absurdity is a relief. Alas, not even a two-minute segment of Ethan Hawke playing a trumpet over his father's grave can bring "Raymond and Ray" to life.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10