As long as this planet provides the roads, real and metaphoric, and the pals, the road-trip buddy movie may well outlive the movies themselves.
"Land Ho!" is a disarming addition to the tradition, giving a well-worn genre a few new wrinkles. For one, it's set in Iceland. For another the actors are not Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. The actors, rather, are Paul Eenhoorn, a calm, gentle-voiced Australian-American, who was so good in the recent indie "This is Martin Bonner," and Earl Lynn Nelson, a retired eye surgeon who happens to be a second cousin of one of the film's writers and directors, Martha Stephens.
Nelson is a politically incorrect party animal, from all accounts, and "Land Ho!" began when Stephens and her co-writer and co-director, Aaron Katz, began kicking around the idea: What if we put this brash, wholly American character in Iceland? So they did. Mitch (Nelson) and Colin (Eenhoorn) were one-time brothers-in-law, the former a widower, the latter just out of his second marriage. Visiting Mitch in Kentucky, Colin learns Mitch has booked two tickets to Reykjavik.
Premise efficiently established, "Land Ho!" follows these men as they take in the sights, enjoy the geological wonders, eat some mysterious cuisine, smoke some high-quality marijuana (Mitch is an unrepentant stoner, as well as a letch, who turns everything he sees into a metaphor or simile for a sexual organ) and provide each other with what they've lacked lately: company. At the end of Henrik Ibsen's rarely produced play "The Vikings of Helgeland" Gunnar says to Ornulf: "I sail with thee to Iceland!" No Viking ships here, but "Land Ho!" operates on the same spirit of adventure, in a lower key.
As a performance showcase it's intriguing simply because Eenhoorn and Nelson barely belong to the same species, so different are they in demeanor. There's a lovely development late in "Land Ho!" involving Colin, a bank manager, and a local woman (Alice Olivia Clarke) in the same line of work. They meet in one of the island nation's hot springs. A different, slightly dumber movie might've made too much of their rendezvous; "Land Ho!" is content to tap it into place, taking the time for a contented close-up of Nelson, who resembles the great old character actor Edward Andrews, reading outside, pleased that his friend has found some companionship.
Nelson's character initially comes off as such a boor you wonder if "Land Ho!" will wear out its welcome before Mitch and Colin even hit the road. Some of the banter's discomfiting in a good way; some of it's conventional and more along the lines of a Hollywood product. This is a small film about older men, alone in their domestic lives though not bereft of friendship. "Chat with me. Please," Mitch says to Colin at one point, when the travelers have grown a little tired of each other. The talk in "Land Ho!," which was beautifully photographed by Andrew Reed, ranges from '90s movie trivia to larger matters of hopes and dreams waylaid en route to the present. But the present, as Mitch asserts, is full of wonder and possibility.