'Old Feeling' doesn't feel so good Review: It's a long and predictable playing out of something old vs. something new, and not even sassy Bette Midler can redeem it.

April 04, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

There's about 64 minutes of slam-bang comedy, hot, fresh, snappy and just the way you like it, lost in the great sluggish tide that is the almost endless "That Old Feeling." That old feeling is fatigue.

Yet this is one of those curious films far more interesting for what it says than for what it is. What it is is mediocre comedy. What it says is, Let the spirit of Dionysian fury liberate you. Escape the tyranny of evil white Republicans. Hooray for our team!

Bette Midler -- in fine form -- and Dennis Farina -- gray-haired guy, very macho, usually plays cops and was a cop -- are a long-divorced couple. The decree may have been signed over a decade ago, but the soul-deep wounds each inflicted on the other still fester and leak pus under the surface. Each is a "creative," by the way -- she's a movie star, he's an extremely prosperous mystery writer. Each has married a new partner that is the polar opposite of the other. And, of course, they're still hopelessly in love. They just don't know it.

What brings them together is the marriage of their one child, Molly (Paula Marshall), to the new Nazi of American film: the Yale graduate. (Boy, am I glad I wasn't smart enough get in. Would have been a real career blunder!) He's the son of WASPy pillars of reeking rectitude and hypocrisy, he's running for Congress, and the movie presents all the things that were once viewed as strengths as flaws: He combs his hair (boo!), wears a tie (ick!), a blazer (ugh!) and wants to win (aggghhhhh!). He probably flosses!

Of course, he's a secret crypto-fascist who can never apologize, wants to control and is bad in bed. Frankly, director Carl Reiner (Rob's father) made a casting blunder putting the extremely likable Jamie Denton in this role. Denton never seems anything remotely as despicable as the movie insists, which cuts the core out of the apple of the argument.

In any event, at the posh, sterile, pretentious WASP wedding, Lilly (Midler) and Dan (Farina) bump shoulders, exchange pleasantries and then insults and in a few seconds have launched a full-scale thermonuclear exchange before the shocked prigs of New Canaan. This is the film's best gag, as it follows their quicksilver escalation toward mutually assured destruction, and each of the actors has quick reflexes and a tongue like a knife. Molly exiles them to the mansion's parking lot and, in seconds, that powerful hate alchemizes to lust. The two old lovers hop in the back of a sports car and start rocking and rolling. It's very good for both of them.

Soon, they've taken off on a lark, upsetting the spouses, of course, but really annoying the nasty Yale boy who fears "the scandal" will wreck his chances politically. Leslie Dixon's plot is so schematic it plays like a blueprint: The two liberated parents enact a drama of redemption through carnal indulgence even as their daughter feels her new life clamping down on her, sucking the pleasure, the spontaneity from her.

Hubby is cold, repressed and angry, the two prattling deserted spouses (Gail O'Grady and David Rasche) are infantile and annoying, and her parents seem to be having so darn much fun! Throw in a sexy Latino paparazzi who represents sexual power more appropriate to her generation, and you've got a volatile situation.

The symbolism is somewhat oppressive. She's the future, facing two possible worlds: old white boy obedience, represented by her hubby and his appalling family; or the force of liberation, of feelings, of doing what feels good, not what is good. That is so obvious, it all but ruins the film: Who wants to spend two hours watching Bette Midler win a loaded argument?

Worse, Dixon has much less luck with her pace than she does with her politics, nor is Reiner able to help her. The movie is so slow it feels like an obscure canto by T. S. Eliot.

It's a shame some evil old studio head couldn't have laid down the law and told everyone responsible they had to cut the film to 90 minutes or they'd never work again in that town. But that Hollywood is dead forever, and this movie proudly says: Welcome to the future. Like it or leave it.

'That Old Feeling'

Starring Bette Midler and Dennis Farina

Directed by Carl Reiner

Released by Universal

Rating PG-13 (sexual innuendo)

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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