Friday April 2, 1999
Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn as an attractive baby-boomer couple from Ohio who fly off to Manhattan for the husband's interview at a top ad agency only to be plunged into a nightmare of foul-ups. If the film's title and premise sound familiar that's because back in 1970 Neil Simon, director Arthur Hiller, Jack Lemmon and the late Sandy Dennis made a movie of the same name, at once funny and rueful, about just how many things can go wrong for newcomers in the Big Apple.
The new version, however, is much more a free reworking than a remake, a glossy two-star vehicle, rewritten by Marc Lawrence as a glamorous romantic comedy-adventure fantasy tailored for Martin's and Hawn's personalities and comedic gifts. They are a terrific team and look great, but their film is a throwback to old Hollywood hokum in which shiny production values have been applied to much that smacks of the contrived and the synthetic.
Whereas the original film was very much rooted in everyday reality, artfully exaggerated only slightly for humor and poignancy, this new version is ultra-sleek escapist fare that depends heavily upon your being able to be carried away by its stars. Martin and Hawn do have as much charm as they have a gift for comedy, but ultimately the film is not as consistently effective as they are.
Both films start out similarly with the missed connections and lost luggage we've all experienced. But once Martin and Hawn, who are swiftly mugged and left nearly penniless, have arrived in Manhattan, they've also landed in fantasy land, with a string of wildly improbable incidents--some hilarious, others merely strained--that test their spirits, their marriage and their capacity for renewal and perseverance.
The truest moments have to do with two people, married 27 years, learning to depend upon and trust each other as never before. The set piece of the film finds Hawn coming on to a personable but eventually irate Hollywood agent (Mark McKinney) so that she can snag his expensive hotel suite so that she and Martin can call room service for dinner, freshen up and maybe even get a little rest before the guy comes back from a play. Hawn is sly and sexy, and this substantial sequence, beautifully sustained under Sam Weisman's smooth direction, is comedy that grows out of character rather than slapstick, and is all the more effective for it.
Hawn's wife is lots more daring and resilient than Martin's husband ever realized, but suffering from empty nest syndrome, Hawn needs to start putting Martin first again, just as he needs to be lots more assertive. You couldn't ask more of both stars, who deliver in high style, and they get splendid support from McKinney and from John Cleese, as the most unctuous hotel manager since Franklin Pangborn. You may want to take a chance on this new "Out-of-Towners" because of its stars, but keep in mind that while its characters take chances, the picture itself plays it awfully safe.
The Out-of-Towners, 1999. PG-13, for some sex and drug-related humor. A Paramount Pictures presentation of a Robert Evans production in association with Cherry Alley Productions and the Cort/Madden Co. Producers Robert Evans, Teri Schwartz, Robert Cort and David Madden. Executive producers Christine Forsyth-Peters, Philip E. Thomas. Screenplay by Marc Lawrence; based upon the screenplay by Neil Simon. Cinematographer John Bailey. Editor Kent Beyda. Music Marc Shaiman. Costumes Ann Roth. Production designer Ken Adam. Art directors William F. O'Brien, Charles Beal. Set decorators Kathryn Peters, Marvin March, George DeTitta. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Steve Martin as Henry Clark. Goldie Hawn as Nancy Clark. John Cleese as Mr. Mersault. Mark McKinney as Greg.