Watching Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau sparring with each other in "Grumpy Old Men" (citywide) is like watching an old vaudeville routine for the umpteenth time. They play off their tics and wheezes with the practiced ease of old pros but there's something a bit too chummy and self-congratulatory about it all. They're enjoying themselves more than we are.
Lemmon's John and Matthau's Max live side by side in a small Minnesota town and have been feuding for decades. (We're never quite sure why.) They greet each other every morning with such endearments as "putz" and "moron." They go ice-fishing--the film takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas--and finagle ways to sabotage each other's catch.
When a New Age-y widow, Ann-Margret's all-too-aptly-named Ariel, moves in across the street, she heats up the duel between the two crotchety widowers. She favors them with her life lessons.
Ariel is so blissed-out she seems lobotomized but we're supposed to think she's a free spirit who gives these men back their lives. It's a relief when Burgess Meredith, playing John's 94-year-old father, shows up. He's a funny, randy old coot; his attempts to paw Ariel are the only real signs of life in the movie.
Director Donald Petrie and screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson--who's still in his 20s--are trying for a holiday perennial. That's why they throw in the hearts and flowers along with the whoopee cushions. The dinky subplot involving the children of John and Max--played by Daryl Hannah and Kevin Pollak--seems to exist only to skew the age demographics for this film a bit downward.
That may be a shrewd move. If you're young enough to have missed some of the better Lemmon-Matthau pairings, like "The Fortune Cookie" or "The Odd Couple," then "Grumpy Old Men" won't seem so grumpy.
'Grumpy Old Men'
Jack Lemmon: John
Walter Matthau: Max
Burgess Meredith: Grandpa
A Warner Brothers release of a John Davis/Lancaster Gate production. Director Donald Petrie. Producer John Davis, Richard C. Berman. Executive producer Dan Kolsrud. Screenplay by Mark Steven Johnson. Cinematographer Johnny E. Jensen. Editor Bonnie Koehler. Costumes Lisa Jensen. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design David Chapman. Art director Mark Haack. Set decorator Clay Griffith. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
\o7 MPAA-rating PG-13, for some sexual references. Times guidelines: It includes cussing and a clownish attempted stabbing with a frozen fish.\f7