"Grumpier Old Men" brings back Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as those feisty seniors, John and Max, next-door neighbors in a small Minnesota town, and Ann-Margret as John's lovely wife of six months. Joining them is Sophia Loren, a big plus in an overly contrived comedy strewn with less-than-hilarious geriatric sex jokes that gets by on its formidable star power.
The glowing, eternally gorgeous and witty Loren arrives on the scene with her cagey, old-country mother (Ann Guilbert) to turn John and Max's beloved bait shop into an Italian restaurant. The guys start sabotaging her efforts in actually quite nasty ways, but it's clear from the start that Loren's unlucky-in-love Maria and lonely widower Max are going to end up with each other.
Meanwhile, John's lecherous 95-year-old father (Burgess Meredith, a shameless scene-stealer) pursues Guilbert while John's daughter (Daryl Hannah) and Max's son (Kevin Pollak) are trying to overcome parental interference in planning their wedding.
Unfortunately, plot developments do not emerge often enough from writer Mark Steven Johnson's characters but more frequently from Johnson's arbitrary dictates. However, he does give his veteran stars, Matthau and Loren especially, enough to work with so that under Howard Deutch's easygoing direction they can fill out their roles with their strong, familiar presences and well-honed comedy skills.
The picture works best when the romantic skirmishing begins in earnest between Max and Maria. When Loren turns provocative and Matthau draws upon his crusty basset-hound charm, their sparring recalls Mae West and W.C. Fields in "My Little Chickadee." "Grumpier Old Men" needs more of this and less of Matthau and Lemmon indulging in pranks that make them look childish. Lemmon and Matthau, however, do have a funny scene in which they stop off on the way to their children's wedding to land a huge fish.
It's great to see cherished, longtime stars in big roles to which they can bring so much spontaneity and finesse; you wish only that this movie were sturdier and had aimed higher. Judging from the bloopers that unreel during "Grumpier Old Men's" end credits, the cast had lots of fun making this movie--more fun, it would seem, than it is to watch.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for salty language and innuendoes. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for children old enough to know about the birds and the bees.
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'Grumpier Old Men'
Walter Matthau: Max
Jack Lemmon: John
Sophia Loren: Maria
A Warner Bros. presentation of John Davis/Lancaster Gate production. Director Howard Deutch. Producers Davis, Richard C. Berman. Screenplay by Mark Steven Johnson; based on characters created by Johnson. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. Editors Billy Weber, Seth Flaum, Maryann Brandon. Costumes Lisa Jensen. Music Alan Silvestri. Production designer Gary Frutkof. Art director Bill Rea. Set decorator Peg Cummings. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.