Owen Wilson channels the late PBS host and painter Bob Ross by capturing his look and demeanor for the Brit McAdams-directed comedy “Paint” which is not a biopic about the “Let’s add some happy little trees” celebrity artist. Wilson plays Carl Nargle, a relic from the 70s stuck in the present. When he’s not on the air hosting his painting show on Burlington’s PBS station, Carl is usually fooling around with one of his female coworkers in his custom van. His job is threatened when the young and vivacious Ambrosia (Ciara Renée) is hired to do a painting show which boosts the station’s ratings. The laughs are interspersed as the script fizzles out, but Wilson and the supporting cast are entertaining to watch.

There’s a reason why the instructional show hosted by Ross was called “The Joy of Painting” and the one Wilson’s Carl Nargle hosts is just called “Paint”; There isn’t much happiness on display. Sure, he’s painting happy little trees while taking viewers to a “special place” but off air, the Afro-haired, pipe-smoking, and soft-spoken host (again, he’s not Bob Ross) is a bit of a sad sack. In every episode, Carl paints the same landscape, Vermont’s famous Mount Mansfield. His demographic (nursing home residents 65+) doesn’t seem to mind but the ratings are tanking.

The always-funny Stephen Root plays antsy station manager Tony, who decides to give newcomer Ambrosia a shot at the suggestion of his assistant Katherine (Michaela Watkins) who is also Carl’s ex. Retaliation by a scorned woman? She did catch Carl cheating with another employee in his pimped-out van, but as Tony puts it, “A little competition never hurt anyone.”

Ambrosia grew up watching “Paint with Carl Nargle” so you could say he is her inspiration. She feels honored that her show “Paint with Ambrosia” immediately follows Carl’s but the two are as different as night and day. Whispery Carl paints serene landscapes while puffing on his vintage pipe. Ambrosia is energetic and loud. She’s so intense that Tony asks her to tone it down after she paints a UFO spewing massive amounts of blood (very funny). Former Broadway star Ciara Renée is terrific in the role injecting adrenaline into the story at just the right moments.

Ambrosia brings a new audience to the PBS station while also capturing Carl’s senior citizen demographic, who are amazed by the fact that she can crank out two paintings in her 60-minute slot. The ratings get a boost and Tony decides to let Carl go.

A minor subplot involves Ambrosia falling for Katherine which feels a bit out of place. A missed opportunity for McAdams who could have injected some humor with Carl trying to hook up with Ambrosia not realizing (and understanding) that she’s gay.

The supporting cast is entertaining especially Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Reno 911”) as one of Carl’s sexual conquests. Michaela Watkins is a funny and talented actor-comedian (who Lorne Michaels should have kept on past one season) but here McAdams doesn’t give her much to work with, and no funny scenes.

Owen Wilson hands down is the reason the film is watchable. His low-key personality is a perfect fit for the Bob Ross-wannabe and the stuck-in-the-70s gag never gets old as we watch Carl use a rotary phone and comment about not understanding how to use the “tiny answering machine” in his cell phone (voicemail) and when one character tells him they called an Uber, he responds with “I don’t know what that means.”

The soundtrack features classics that include,” I Believe in You” by Don Williams, “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot, and Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.” Carl’s playlist matches his vintage western shirt and speaking of vintage, his custom van is decked out with a CB radio and loudspeaker. When people recognize him while stopped at a red light, they sometimes roll down their window to talk. Carl replies via the CB loudspeaker in his soft-spoken voice (that gag is also very funny).

Despite Wilson’s solid performance, I can’t help wondering if the role would have been better suited for Will Ferrell. “Paint” doesn’t have the wit of a Wes Anderson film and it lacks the zaniness of a Farrelly Brothers comedy, so its weak point is McAdams’s script which has trouble balancing the laughs with its gloomy storyline. The cast is great, and the laughs are there, yet too much time is spent watching “Paint” dry in between gags.

(2 ½ stars)

Now showing in theatres

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.