Highly improbable and stretched too far, “This is Happening” nevertheless features three solid performances that keep things watchable, if not quite plausible.

James Wolk — formerly of Farmington Hills and the University of Michigan — plays Philip, something of a pushover, who’s being sent by his irresponsible father (Judd Nelson) to Palm Springs to tell his grandmother, Estelle (Cloris Leachman), that she has to move into an assisted-living home. Hitching a ride for nefarious purposes with Philip is his stoner sister, Megan (Mickey Sumner).

Estelle turns out to be your basic brassy old lady, crabby and eccentric, and not likely to go quietly into a retirement home. After smoking a bit with Megan, she mistakenly runs her car into a neighbor (Rene Auberjonois); in the morning, fearing both the consequences and the retirement home, she takes off, heading toward her old base of Seattle with an old dead dog she’s had stuffed.

This is where writer-director Ryan Jaffe starts making wrong turns, effectively sending Philip and Megan on an empty-headed crime spree as they pursue Estelle. Yes, there’s something in Estelle’s trunk Megan desperately needs, but would she really break law after law to get to it? And would Philip go along with things? Beyond that, what are the chances they could spot and catch up to Estelle over a long, three-state pursuit?

Yes, it’s only a movie, but it still has to make sense. The saving grace is that Wolk and Sumner breathe real life into what turns out to be a complex brother-sister dynamic. Beyond that, Leachman takes a stock comic character and gives her a real feel of impending, unavoidable doom. “This is Happening” leans too much on ungrounded comic antics for the performers to be completely successful, but they give it their all.

‘This is Happening’


Not rated

Running time: 84 minutes

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