Paint Review: Owen Wilson Is A Cynical Bob Ross Clone In This Thinly Sketched Comedy

Everybody loves Bob Ross. For more than 10 years, the soft-spoken, big-haired artists came into people's homes via PBS and taught "The Joy of Painting." The paintings Ross created were not exactly awe-inspiring, but they were pretty enough. However, it was Ross' built-in ASMR skills that truly entranced viewers — we couldn't get enough of his whispery voice talking about "happy little trees." So great was Ross' power that his legend lives on long after his death — people still flock to YouTube to watch low-def videos of his old shows. 

But what if Bob Ross was a cynical, washed-up womanizer? Would you like to see a movie about that? The makers of "Paint" sure hope so! Written and directed by Brit McAdams, "Paint" provides us with a portrait of Carl Nargle (Owen Wilson), a Bob Ross clone who is much loved as the host of Vermont's number-one painting show. Sporting a hairdo similar to Ross, Carl takes to the airwaves and paints the same thing over and over again: landscapes featuring Mount Mansfield. He's just as soft-spoken as Bob Ross, but as we learn, Carl has burned through the female staff of his show, seducing and then unceremoniously dumping them in short order. 

The idea of a less-than-perfect Bob Ross-like figure is fine, in theory. Creating a more realistic, and flawed, figure inspired by Ross could work like gangbusters in the right hands, but "Paint" is a bit of a wash. Nothing here feels grounded in reality, and there's a sense that everyone involved really wanted this to be a Wes Anderson movie — and the presence of frequent Anderson collaborator Wilson seems to confirm that. But no one can really do Wes Anderson as well as Wes Anderson, and the flat, dull cinematography on display here never comes close to matching the colorful worlds the "Grand Budapest Hotel" director can conjure up. Worse, "Paint" begins to feel like a rejected "SNL" sketch that got thinly stretched like a bad canvas. You get the sense that the film's planning never got past asking the question, "What if Bob Ross was a jerk?" That could be funny for about three minutes. For a feature-length film, you're going to need a little more. 

Not a pretty picture

As "Paint" begins, Carl appears on top of the world. Everyone is enchanted with the soft-spoken, pipe-smoking painter. His staff adores him and caters to his every whim. And his viewers — everyone from old folks in nursing homes to tough guys sitting at bars — watch him paint with quiet awe. But Carl's soon in for a rude awakening. He's not the only painter in town when the station hires Ambrosia (Ciara Renée), who might just be a better painter than Carl. She's certainly a more interesting painter — instead of painting the same old mountain over and over again, she paints things like flying saucers. And the viewers love her. Seemingly overnight Carl goes from the hottest thing on public TV to a nobody.

There are shadows of "Anchorman" here — a man working in TV suddenly threatened by the presence of a woman doing his job, and doing it potentially better. But this, like everything else in the movie, is only faintly brushed up against. What keeps "Paint" from giving us a clearer picture is the fact that it's not entirely apparent how we're meant to feel about Carl. Do we like this guy? Hate him? It's all too vague to muster up much of an opinion one way or another. 

"Paint" almost gets by on its shaggy dog charm mostly thanks to Wilson, who remains loveable enough to guide us through this world. But the comedy is flat and the drama is dry, and none of it adds up to a pretty picture. If you want my advice, you can feel free to skip "Paint" and watch old Bob Ross videos on YouTube instead. It'll be more rewarding.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10