Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

GRUMPIER OLD MEN (1995) ** 1/4

Directed by Howard Deutch. Written by Mark Steven Johnson. Photography, Tak Fujimoto. Editing, Billy Weber, Seth Flaum, Maryann Brandon. Production design, Gary Frutkoff. Music, Alan Silvestri. Cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Sophia Loren, Kevin Pollak, Daryl Hannah, Burgess Meredith, Ann Guilbert, et al. A Warners release. 105 min. Rated PG-13 (language)
In the 1993 "Grumpy Old Men," John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon ) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau ) were small-town, retired Minnesotans -- respectively a widowed Swede and a divorced Jew -- who had been feuding friends and neighbors since 1938. The film was an unworthy, dull descendant of "The Odd Couple," jerkily built, minimally salvaged by traces of comedic talent in the Lemmon-Matthau pair.

I was not anxious to see the sequel "Grumpier Old Men", but I did, partly as a reaction to the flood of three-hour long, tush-taxing and grump-making movies. Surprisingly, it turned out to be pretty enjoyable, all the more so since remakes are usually much inferior to their originals.

In "Grumpier," John now happily married to Ariel (Ann-Margret) for six months, still lives next door to Max. Max is a lonely, ultra-messy bachelor whose companionship consists of three television sets that edify him about the world through programs like "Geraldo." He still has John's fishing companionship. The old antagonism has lessened but still smolders -- still quite irrationally. Insults, put-downs, deprecation and physical tricks are very much alive. In addition to this Neil Simon-ish rapport, there is a kind of Three Stooges behavior.

There is no third stooge. On the periphery is the colorless affair of Max's son Jacob (Kevin Pollack) who wants to marry Max's daughter Melanie (Darryl Hannah), the divorced mother of a little girl. Peripheral too, though colorful, is 95-year old Grandpa Gustafson (Burgess Meredith).

From Palermo, Sicily, Maria,the cousin of a local nicknamed "Spaghetti" Ragetti, moves to town. In needless overkill of plotting, she has been unlucky in five marriages. Her old mother comes along. Ann Guilbert plays her convincingly as an Italian, though her rapid going from ignorance of English to relative fluency is too much.

The ladies now own a former bait shop by the lake, want to transform the place into an Italian "ristorante romantico." The John-Max odd couple, fearing that this will affect the fishing, resort to childish tricks and pranks to sabotage the project.

Max's initial irritation about Maria telegraphs in large writ that it will be transformed into romance and badly-needed matrimony. Other complications, including a break between John and Ariel and another between Melanie and Jacob, are also signaled from afar as merely passing impediments.

The film's structure is of episodes tied together by gags, jokes and repartees. These are overall better than in "Grumpy Old Men." Both movies have the same writer and composer, otherwise the crews are different. ( Howard Deutch who has been closely associated with John Hughes has also directed "Pretty In Pink,"" Some Kind Of Wonderful," "The Great Outdoors," "Article 99, ""Getting Even With Dad.")

Silvestri's music humorously underlines the story with familiar renditions of old songs. "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" is gratifyingly served in its entirety with the opening credits."That's Amore"; "Hit the Road, Jack" and others follow.

Among the funnier highlights, Matthau in love has his truck seat "refinished in authentic imitation leather." (Historical Note: The original ads, years ago, said "genuine imitation leatherette"). He gets "jewelry" for Loren and in what struck me as the movie's funniest bit, explains: "It's a cubic zirconium. I got it from the Home Shopping Network."

A running gag has Matthau videotaping (with unlikely skills) neighbor Lemmon posing nude for sculptress Ann-Margret's remake of Rodin's "The Thinker." There is also a good, cartoonish dog-chasing-cat, mayhem-producing sequence topped by the humans squabbling while now the animals sit together in friendship and watch. The tone is kept light except, close to the end, for some pathos about Grandpa and some sentimentality that you see coming for miles about a legendary fish tracked for 20 years and finally caught.

Most importantly, there is Sophia Loren. She wears her 61 years with grace and not much disguise. She does her flimsy part with wit, warmth and grace. Her appeal and sexiness go beyond the obvious (her bust, her walk). They involve her eyes, the way she smiles, reacts and speaks. On the other hand, the film overstresses the ages of Matthau (75) and Lemmon (70), the close-ups of jowls and watery eyes, the shuffling gait.

Ann-Margret (age 54 in 1995) and the rest of the cast strictly provide support, padding or decoration. The movie is slight, unambitious and forgettable, but as short-term or instant gratification, it does nicely.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel