"The Banger Sisters" is a practiced piece of Hollywood hokum, way too calculated and contrived, especially for a film that nominally celebrates the chaos and creativity of the 1960s. But, of course, it's the Geritol version of the '60s that is being presented here, the comfy equivalent of a pair of jeans with an adjustable waistband that obligingly offers just a skosh more room to house complacent sensibilities.
That is more of a pity than it sounds, not because the '60s deserve better, but because the film's stars, Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon, definitely do and because the notion that started it all has undeniable potential.
It's a cute idea, but the result is so shameless that even the fun these actresses have with their roles isn't enough to compensate for the difficulties.
"The Banger Sisters" opens at the Whisky on the Sunset Strip. Yet another new band is playing, but the face behind the bar has been there awhile.
That would be Suzette (Hawn), still talking about the time Jim Morrison passed out on top of her, and still drinking rum and Cokes like there is no tomorrow. Which, it turns out, there isn't.
For despite her protestations that "I'm fun, people love me, I'm Suzette," the Whisky's manager fires her before the opening credits are over.
Shaken up and short on cash, Suzette decides to drive her dilapidated auto to Phoenix to reconnect with, and possibly borrow money from, Vinnie (Sarandon), the woman who was once her party-girl soul mate.
She explains all this to Harry (Geoffrey Rush), a disgruntled screenwriter (there's a first) who, in the earliest of innumerable coincidences, just happens to pop up headed for Phoenix at the exact moment Suzette runs out of money for gas.
Harry is a piece of work himself, the yin to Suzette's yang. Fussy, phobic, a worshiper of order who hasn't had sex in 10 years, Harry is headed to Phoenix for what sounds like some ominous unfinished business with his father.
Anyone who's familiar with the movies' love for odd couple dynamics knows he's headed for some kind of relationship with Suzette as well.
As for Vinnie, who now prefers to be known as Lavinia, she is closer to being a female version of Harry than Suzette could have imagined.
A prim, buttoned-up, beige-wearing suburban type determined to be the perfect wife and mother, Lavinia may be less than thrilled to see Suzette, but she could clearly do with some loosening up.
For not only do Lavinia's husband and children have no idea about her counterculture past, her daughters, wouldn't you know it, don't respect her.
Older child Hannah (Erika Chistensen) is experimenting with illegal substances without parental consent or knowledge, while younger sibling Ginger (Eva Amurri, Sarandon's daughter) is having tantrums all over the place.
Worse than that, all this bourgeois luxury has made Lavinia, yes, lose track of her true rebel spirit. For the '60s turn out to be something like the Mafia, a secret society that, once you've been properly initiated into it, you can't even think about leaving.
With a setup like this and actresses so gifted, it's a given that "The Banger Sisters" has amusing moments. Both performers, especially Hawn, in effect taking on a 30-years-later version of the character daughter Kate Hudson played in "Almost Famous," are suited to their roles and enjoy being in each other's company, but it's not enough.
For writer-director Dolman, whose writing credits including the deeply middle-of-the-road "Willow" and "Far and Away," has come up with the kind of scenario even the characters themselves can't seem to believe. Like Harry, "The Banger Sisters" has a weakness for excessive tidiness. The film's vision of the '60s is like a bland cover version of a once-vibrant song. Even if you're tempted to sing along, you know you're missing out on something.
MPAA rating: R, for language, sexual content and some drug use. Times guidelines: gleeful profanity and sexual humor.
'The Banger Sisters'
A Gran Via/ Elizabeth Cantillon production, released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director Bob Dolman. Producers Mark Johnson, Elizabeth Cantillon. Executive producer David Bushell. Screenplay Bob Dolman. Cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub. Editor Aram Nigoghossian. Costumes Jacqueline West. Music Trevor Rabin. Production design Maia Javan. Art director Catey Maxey. Set decoration Maria Nay. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
In general release.