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The Out-of-Towners

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Out-of-Towners

Starring: Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn
Director: Sam Weisman
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: April 1999
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Anne Meara, Sandy Baron, Ann Prentiss, Graham Jarvis, Ron Carey, Philip Bruns, Carlos Montalban, Billy Dee Williams, Paul Dooley

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

They say that travel is broadening. Taking a journey outside of your home state exposes you to cultures and life styles other than your own. This is true. Travel has the added benefit of allowing you to turn inward as well, affording new perspectives on your life and home and your relationships with your loved ones. "The Out-of-Towners" seeks to prove this premise. This is the story of a marriage which has fallen into a rut when the last of the children leaves the nest, and how a journey of just a few hundred miles bequeaths to its two pilgrims some new perspectives not so much on cultures outside of their own provincial town but on their very own connection to each other.

Neil Simon's play was first adapted to the screen some thirty years ago. That screen version featured Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis as two people married two score and four years, whose trip from Ohio to New York is charged with so many blemishes that the very disasters serve to strengthen their marriage. Full of dated humor even then, the 1970 version directed by Arthur Hiller would not appear a fitting vehicle for a sequel. Nor can two of our finest comic actors, Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, breathe life into this tired concoction of predictable country-mouse-visits-the-big-city theme. Though Marc Lawrence's version changes some of the details of the Hiller interpretation, the structure remains intact and so does the outmoded humor. In fact Steve Martin, whose talent for portraying what showbiz biographer Ephraim Katz calls "his likeable, self-mocking split personae, forever wavering between vulnerability and overconfidence, between frenzied cheeriness and pathetic heartbreak," fails to ignite the screen, owing to director Sam Weisman's incapacity at comic timing. Nor does Martin develop much chemistry with Ms. Hawn who, despite being almost exactly the same age as the prematurely gray Martin, could virtually pass for his daughter.

The story is propelled by a job interview that Ohio resident Henry Clark (Steve Martin) has with a mid-town Manhattan advertising agency. As his daughter had left the nest some time back and his son has just followed suit, Henry and his wife of 27 years, Nancy (Goldie Hawn), are vaguely uncomfortable. What will they now have to talk about? The excursion to the Big Apple gives them enough material to keep their conversation flowing for years to come.

During the relatively brief duration of the movie, Henry and Nancy suffer a diversion of their flight to Boston; a missed train connection; lost luggage; a Manhattan mugging from a man whom they believe to be Andrew Lloyd Webber; a failure to get a hotel room given their lack of money; a zany therapy session into which they have wandered; and stomachs growling with insatiable hunger. They are chased by police on horseback; are observed having sex in Central Park by New York's mayor (played by Rudy as himself); and dangle dangerously on a hotel veranda twenty-two stories above the city.

While Neil Simon's show was never one of his better efforts, the work should have been left interred along with several other frolics of the world's most economically successful playwright, along with "The Odd Couple" and "Barefoot in the Park." John Cleese turns in an encouraging performance as a cynical clerk in a posh Manhattan hotel-- recreating his role as Basil Fawlty on one of TV's most rollicking comedies. But his high-kicking dance in drag is as antiquated today as is Steve Martin's duck-walking romp on city streets while high on speed, waddling to the soundtrack beat of "The Age of Aquarius."

A few scenes, nevertheless, begin to catch fire, particularly one involving the couple's attempted theft of a New York Times outside an apartment door (reminiscent of Jack Lemmon's similar aspiration in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue") and a sex therapy session that could have come out of the Bob Newhart TV show, featuring Cynthia Nixon as a nymphomaniac.

"The Out-of-Towners" is the second script adapted by the pen of Marc Lawrence, whose "Forces of Nature" was released just weeks ago. While Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn are immeasurably more charming than Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock, "The Out-of-Towners" gives them little more than recycled pap for their considerable talents.

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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