THE ODD COUPLE II (1998) ** 1/4
Sequelitis is almost always a fatal disease in movies. A new film with an old title followed by a "II" is like a red cloth waved before a bull, the bulls being the cinephilic public and experienced film critics. It's hard to think of exceptions, such as "The Godfather Part II." Or, in a far lesser category, "Grumpier Old Men," which was also directed by "The Odd Couple II"'s Howard Deutch and improved on the weak original "Grumpy Old Men."
In 1967, "Barefoot in the Park," adapted by Neil Simon from his own play, was the first collaboration of Simon and director Gene Saks. The two teamed up again the following year with "The Odd Couple," in 1986 with "Brighton Beach Memoirs," and now with "The Odd Couple II."
While the two Odd Couples are separated by 30 years, Part II plays with time by being set today yet reuniting for the first time in 17 years, Felix, the much-divorced,obsessive neatnik, sinusoidal snorter and hypochondriac who still dwells in New York, with Oscar, the sloppy slob, more bloodhound-like than ever,who now lives in a Florida retirement community. This conveniently allows their respective son and daughter to be young, to have (ah, coincidences!) met in California and to be getting married. It's all news to F & O who get invited to the wedding at a moment's notice. Suspension of disbelief is sorely needed in this movie, but at least it's in a comedy, where making sense is not crucial.
>From the very instant incoming passengers Oscar and Felix meet again at a California's LAX airport, things go wrong and keep escalating. Felix hurts his leg. The men rent a car for the drive to San Malina, where the wedding is. Felix's suitcase is left on the curb, the car burns up, the companions are stranded, and, and, and.....Part II becomes straight away a comic road movie with a series of unrelieved misfortunes, some mechanically plotted but not without laughs.
It's not exactly original, yet the dialogue, jokes, gags and repartees, even when deja vu and deja heard have both the tired look and sound of vaudeville acts and the comfortable feeling that goes with vaudeville. Neil Simon and his stars, all septuagenerians now, are neither charitable nor complacent with old age. The film opening's card-game (a regular affair chez Matthau, with a short geezer and several old ladies) is a pretty merciless blend of realistic and caricatural Jewish humor. The California Odyssey. among other features, switches to dreams of sex when the men encounter in a bar a couple of quite delightfully trashy ladies, Baranski of TV's sadly discontinued "Cybill" and Smart. I regret however that Simon, bending over backwards, makes our protagonists refer to them as "old bikers" which is unfair to their appeal and youthfulness.
It is a propos of this encounter that Oscar and Felix engage in talk about sex which in turn elicits this clever Simonism from Oscar: "We use so many metaphors that I forget what we're talking about."
The main thread is that O & F's final destination is the town of San Malina, whose name is forgotten by both men except for the "San." This, in turn, gives birth to the running (but still funny) jokes about California being chockfull of places that start with San or Santa. In one of them, San Menendez (cf. the Menendez Brothers), the cascading mix-ups have the odd couple thrice arrested, and thrice let go by the bewildered local police chief. This sequence of repeats gambles with the dangerous three-step principle of gags: first comes the original gag, then it gets topped, then another tops the topper. Step Three is risky business yet succeeds here and produces another Simonism as Oscar (who has the best lines) tries to explain the latest imbroglio to the Chief :"I'd hate to have to repeat all this to a judge." In context, it's quite a funny remark.
The movie has its share of tedious,predictable or facile moments, but geriatric it is not. Many of the flabbier scenes manage to come up with reinforcements via zingers or mini-novelties.Granted that it lacks the freshness of the original "The Odd Couple," and that it cannot hold a candle to Neil Simon's great, hilarious and three-dimensional "The Sunshine Boys" (1975, Matthau and George Burns), it is about as unsubstantial, forgettable yet entertaining as that other trifle "Out to Sea," the previous (1997) Lemmon-Matthau vehicle. Alan Silvestri's score is good and appropriate.