Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

OUT TO SEA ** 1/2.

Directed by Martha Coolidge. Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs. Photography, Lajos Koltai. Editing, Anne V. Coates, production design, James Spencer; art direction, William F. Matthews. Choreography, Kim Blank. Music, David Newman . Cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau ,Dyan Cannon, Gloria DeHaven, Brent Spiner, Elaine Stritch, Hal Linden, Donald O'Connor, Edward Mulhare, Rue McClanahan. A 20th Century Fox release. 109 min. PG-13.
The epithet "extraordinary" can mean " extremely good" or "most unusual." Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau can be both. Whether working solo or as a team, they have brought idiosyncratic talents to a variety of roles, from farcical to dead serious. Both actors have also been able to rescue minor flicks, or to interest us in characters that essentially reprise the performers' familiar shticks. It happens again in Out to Sea, the eighth screen pairing of Lemmon and Matthau.

Lemmon, a former long-time salesman at Gimbel's department store and for many decades happily married to (his words) a perfect wife, Matthau's sister. Her death devastated Lemmon. Years later he is still obsessed with the dear departed. His good buddy Matthau keeps telling him to buck up, while regularly borrowing money from him .Lemmon disapproves of his brother-in-law, yet the two are friends. This is nothing like the formula of antagonism in Grumpy Old Men.

Matthau, unemployed, probably never did an honest day's work. He lives off schemes seldom specified but -- here at least -- dependent on dangerous loan sharks. To call him a scam artist might be going too far. Still, he somehow maneuvers reluctant Lemmon into joining him in a 10-day cruise on the beautiful cruise ship Westerdam.

After the ignominy of flying to port in cattle class (economy) comes ignominy Number Two when Matthau reveals to his pal that he had signed up both of them as dance hosts (male). Ignominy Three is that their cabin is the equivalent of modern steerage.

Matthau's general plan is to live it up with rich dames and do some fortune-hunting. I have been on great Transatlantic liners but never on a cruise, so that I really cannot pass on the authenticity of the ship's travelers and such. F or that matter, since I have never watched TV's The Love Boat, I can make no comparisons. But the cruise ship is very well photographed and feels convincingly realistic in a gaudy, Vegas-y way.

Customers are of many ages but the focus is on older women. It does this with kindness, without caricatures, and with some mild irony that does not go overboard. Mature ladies are, of course, the logical partners for our heroes, except that Matthau, who cannot dance, resorts to broad subterfuges to avoid it.

This is not easy, as both men have been singled out by the martinet cruise director Brent Spiner (he plays Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation), a kind of sergeant in impeccable dinner jacket (he also sings nicely). Spiner is good and amusing as the semi-villain. He checks his dance hosts for particles of dust, crooked ties and the like. Above all, with the menace od dire reprisals, he forbids fraternization with any woman after a dance is finished.

His severity is motivated by his ambition to rise, at long last, in the ranks of the shipping company. He warns our friends: " I'm your worst nightmare, a song-and-dance man raised on a military base." Later Matthau says of him :" I think his father was cruise director on the Bismarck." Funny -- for those who know WW2 history.

Predictably, Matthau sets his sights on youthful Texas millionaire widow Dyan Cannon, at a poker table. With unexpected talent for long-range planning, he dreams up ploys to charm her and to discredit another suitor, wealthy Edward Mulhare. Cannon is with her mother Elaine Stritch who plays beautifully her limited role of boozing, tart-tongued grande dame --Texas style.

Lemmon does some nifty steps with eagerly funny women -- although the ace terpsichorean is Donald O'Connor, in a small, welcome return that one might call dancing relief. Lemmon soon finds mutual attraction with 71-year old widow and former book-editor Gloria DeHaven. She's no cruise fodder but, at their insistance, she travels with her newly-married daughter and son-in-law.

How, through quid pro quos, disguises, slapstick and all, Matthau and Lemmon will fare with their ladies while evading Spiner's strictures, is the body of the movie. Lemmon , still haunted by thoughts of his wife, is once again good in touching moments.

The plot is slight, the mechanisms, repartees and comments often deja vu, yet the story is serviceable. In the audience I saw it with there was much white hair, some audible familiarity with cruises, but also a good sprinkling of youngish and young people. All laughed a great deal and were oblivious to some tedious stretches.

I would not disparage the film by calling it geriatric. In a nice twist, the scenario plus Martha Coolidge's direction seem to have come up with a work in praise of older women. Films have accustomed us to elderly leading men . At this writing (July 1997) Lemmon is almost 72 1/2, Matthau close to 77. What is really unusual is that Dyan Cannon is almost exactly 60 1/2 years old, Elaine Stritch 70 1/2, and Gloria DeHaven very close to 73. How old Rue McClanahan is (she plays Spiner's superior and evaluator) I could not find. She too is one charming lady.

Actors such as Stritch are ageless because, not being glamor-pusses they rely on acerbic spoken lines. Cannon is incredible, seems to be having a ball, has a constantly amused expression in her twinkling eyes. More, she is a sexy chick whose figure, generously displayed, could turn any male's head and make 20- or 30-something women emerald-green with envy. Even with plastic surgery, personal trainers and dietitians, the Cannon Case is astounding.

Gloria DeHaven, once popular in breezy films (mostly in second female leads), had disappeared from the screen since the mid-Fifties. She resurfaced briefly in mid-Seventies in a few films (mostly bad and made for TV) some of which went unreleased for years. Here she does beautifully as a lovely older woman who, like her co-performers, ought to shame the studios for not daring to put Golden Agers in solid, even main roles. If the movies are good, the public of most grownups will surely accept senior citizens on the screen, whether audiences see suh films in addition to ort as replacement of many pictures with action, special effects, teens, bimbos and macho hulks. As Matthau tells reluctant-to-commit Lemmon "You're crazy. Years of insanity have made you crazy. There's no such thing as too late. That's why they invented death."

"Out to Sea" is no great comedy or farce, not even a really good one, but not a bad one either. It has some good twists, is unpretentious, light-hearted, innocuously charming, and with enough laughs to make it a pleasant diversion.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel