Friday April 10, 1998
It's as funny as a banana peel. Or, a guy on laughing gas getting a root canal from a buxom blond. Or, take my wife . . . please!
It's vaudeville with a touch of burlesque, a reunion of Mutt and Jeff. It's "The Sunshine Boys" doing "The Out of Towners," starring those grumpy old men, directly from the Borscht Belt table at the Friars Club. Let's hear it for them, ladies and germs: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
Just what the group activities supervisor ordered, "The Odd Couple II," 30 years later. Yes, it's been that long since fussy Felix Unger moved in on slob sportswriter Oscar Madison and made Oscar so mad that he threw a bowl of spaghetti against the kitchen wall. Now, they're back, having survived three decades of fastidiousness and slovenliness on their own, thrown together on the road in California by Neil Simon and the popularity of the "Grumpy Old Men" movies.
Oscar and Felix reconnoiter 17 years after their last, apparently painful get-together, when news reaches each of them that Oscar's son Brucey (Jonathan Silverman) and Felix's daughter Hannah (Lisa Waltz) are getting married. By chance, both arrive at LAX at the same time, giving Felix the opportunity to sprain his ankle and Oscar to leave Felix's luggage--with a $6,000 wedding gift and $10,000 in cash--at the car rental office, and setting up a long road sequence that involves the worst writing Simon has ever done.
The story, such as it is, puts Oscar and Felix on the wrong road to a fictional town north of Los Angeles where their kids and their ex-wives are preparing for the wedding. But Oscar makes the wrong turn somewhere, sending them in a different direction and on a collision course with a pair of roadside bar tarts named Thelma (Christine Baranski) and Holly (Jean Smart), their pistol-packing redneck husbands, a road-straddling crop duster, a batch of undocumented immigrants and a short-tempered local sheriff to whose jail they keep returning.
"Odd Couple II," directed by "Grumpier Old Men's" Howard Deutch, is essentially a rehash of the feuding friendship dynamics of the first film, which are probably familiar to most of today's audiences through their incarnations in the TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Frankly, it's a little sad to see the 77-year-old Matthau and the 73-year-old Lemmon going back to the well, especially when the "Grumpy Old Men" movies have already supplied two de facto "Odd Couple" sequels.
There are, of course, some funny lines. Even in a knockoff mood, Simon can turn a phrase. And Matthau--getting the best of those lines--and Lemmon play off each other like an old married couple. But the laughs leave a melancholy aftertaste, a sense that we've encouraged an old song-and-dance team to cut a rug and are embarrassed by the spectacle.
The Odd Couple II, 1998. PG-13 for brief strong language. Paramount Pictures presents a Cort/Madden production. A Howard Deutch film. Directed by Howard Deutch. Written by Neil Simon. Produced by Robert W. Cort, David Madden. Cinematography Jamie Anderson. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Dan Bishop. Costume design Lisa Jensen. Editing Seth Flaum. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Jack Lemon as Felix Unger. Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison. Christine Baranski as Thelma. Jay O. Sanders as Leroy. Jean Smart as Holly. Jonathan Silverman as Brucey Madison.