Review: Packing up a mixed bag with 'Out-of-Towners'
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By Reviewer Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- In 1970, Neil Simon's comedy "The Out-of-Towners" opened to mixed reviews. Starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, it was considerably darker than the usual Simon production, a fact not all film critics dealt with favorably.
The updated version, written by Marc Lawrence and shot on location in New York City, takes a fluffier turn on Simon's neurotic couple shell-shocked by the 1960s, remaking them into 1990s baby boomers suffering from "empty nest" syndrome.
Henry and Nancy Clark, also known as Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, are a mild-mannered married couple from Columbus, Ohio. After their last child goes off to college and Henry loses his job, the couple find themselves in a full-blown midlife crisis as they travel to New York City for a last-ditch job interview.
As in the original film, the Clarks encounter a bizarre series of events over the next 24 hours as they're mugged, arrested, chased, evicted, kidnapped and attacked by vicious dogs. (Sounds like a normal New York vacation to me.)
But where Jack Lemmon's George Kellerman was angry and stupidly stubborn, Martin's beleaguered husband is more slapstick, less grim -- the proverbial "wild and crazy guy" caught up in wild and crazy NYC. Lemmon's take on the role made for a more harrowing, less sympathetic story than the modern-day "Towners" yields.
Sandy Dennis' achingly neurotic performance as Gwen Kellerman is also much different from Hawn's take-charge persona.
Physical, slapstick comedy
The comedy here is very physical and slapstick at times, with nods towards the Marx Brothers and Harold Lloyd (check out Martin hanging from the hands of a huge clock a la Lloyd in the 1923 film, "Safety Last").
British actor and "Monty Python" alumnus John Cleese provides the best comedic moments as a cross-dressing hotel manager who gleefully makes a vocation out of harrassing our innocent Midwestern couple.
I personally prefer character-driven comedy to this movie's dependence on situational and sight gags. You can also feel the movie lurch and stumble at times, trying desperately to go for a laugh -- especially during a car chase scene at the Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan. At times the film feels like a disjointed series of events all looking for a story.
But overall, "The Out-of-Towners" proves that Martin and Hawn, two wonderful comedic actors, still have it, even if the story line is completely predictable.
An interesting side note: Check out the actor playing the couple's son in the opening of the film. It's Oliver Hudson, Hawn's real-life son. He joins Hawn's daughter Kate Hudson, currently starring in the film "200 Cigarettes," in the ranks of Hollywood's second-generation actors. Their father, Bill Hudson, was married to Hawn before her longtime relationship with actor Kurt Russell.
"The Out-of-Towners" is aimed squarely at adults with fond memeories of Neil Simon, and if you're a Martin or Hawn fan you should go -- otherwise, you might want to clean out your garage.
"The Out-of-Towners" is rated PG-13 with a running time of 91 minutes.
A rash of remakes is hitting theaters near you
Official 'The Out-of-Towners' site
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