It’s no wonder Warner Bros. held back the family dramedy “Head Full of Honey” from critics until the last minute. Actor-filmmaker Til Schweiger has remade his 2014 German film “Honig im Kopf” (which translates to “Honey in the Head,” but was also released as “Head Full of Honey”) for American audiences and the result is a raucous, wildly implausible, overlong jumble saddled by a host of misguided creative instincts. It’s a potentially warm and delicate story that required a scalpel, but saw the blunt end of a sledgehammer instead.
In theory, the idea of a towering actor such as Nick Nolte playing a doddering granddad lost in a fog of Alzheimer’s disease is an intriguing choice. And as the flamboyantly-named Amadeus, a recent widower and former veterinarian at a crossroads, the three-time Oscar nominee tears into the role with no small amount of conviction.
Unfortunately, his Amadeus is so ham-handedly scripted and directed by Schweiger (Lo Malinke and Jojo Moyes co-wrote) — and played for too many appalling or disturbing laughs — that Nolte can never quite get a handle on the character’s trajectory, alternating between agitation, confusion, delusion and only fleeting moments of clarity without enough of the necessary shadings.
If this approach was meant to duplicate the roller-coaster ravages of the disease, that’s fine, but the film’s absurdly broad, fever-pitch tone too often smothers Nolte’s hard-working performance; Amadeus is ultimately more amped-up characterization than flesh-and-blood character. (See Blythe Danner’s lovely turn in the recent “What They Had” as a master class in portraying the descent into Alzheimer’s.)
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast also falls prey to Schweiger’s aggressive, uncalibrated style, chiefly Matt Dillon as Nick, Amadeus’ devoted if distracted son, and Emily Mortimer as Nick’s beleaguered wife, Sarah. Playing a badly behaved couple stressed by work issues, infidelities and the dizzying intrusion that occurs when Amadeus moves in with them and their 10-year-old daughter, Tilda (a not-quite-ready Sophia Lane Nolte, Nick’s real-life daughter), Dillon and especially Mortimer — who spends the first part of the film in a state of unbridled apoplexy — are all over the place.
The pressures for Nick and Sarah vis à vis the larger-than-life Amadeus quickly pile up as he nearly burns down their house, turns their refrigerator into a urinal (the film’s most groan-worthy moment), clutters the place up with his old junk, flings food in the air and sets off a crazy fireworks explosion. They know Amadeus belongs in an assisted living facility but can’t yet make the leap.
But their angst — and what shred of credibility the movie may have retained — goes kablooey when Tilda, who has bonded with Amadeus in a way Nick never could (of course), decides to gramps-nap the old guy and whisk him off to romantic Venice, the site of his favorite memories with late wife, Margaret.
How Tilda and Amadeus make their way to Italy is so thoroughly improbable, not to mention ridiculously irresponsible and dangerous, that it irrevocably sinks the picture. This pie-in-the-sky journey includes a car chase that finds a dazed Amadeus behind the wheel in London traffic, an aborted train trip through the Alps, a truck ride with a smelly flock of sheep and other frantic set pieces that play more like ha-ha trailer moments than any kind of remotely rational narrative choices.
Although this well-intended film, featuring on-the-nose narration by Sophia, certainly aims for heartfelt, it lands somewhere between mawkish and strained, rarely missing an opportunity to make noise, crash things, land a punch, stretch for the uneasy laugh and generally overreact.
This isn’t helped by Schweiger’s excessive use of unflattering close-ups, as if we won’t get what the characters are saying or feeling if we’re not literally in their faces. Jacqueline Bisset, in a dreadfully written role as Sarah’s free-spirited mother (she wears turbans, enough said), and Eric Roberts as an unlikely doctor, are especially badly shot.
‘Head Full of Honey’
Rated: PG-13, for language, some suggestive material and thematic elements
Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Playing: ArcLight Hollywood; the Landmark, West Los Angeles