Madcap New York: fugedaboutit

Review: Not even Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn can draw laughs out of this too-tame retelling of `The Out-of-Towners.'

April 02, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Filmgoers old enough to remember the 1970 movie "The Out of Towners" will recall a harrowing comedy in which Sandy Dennis and Jack Lemmon duked it out with a ruthless New York City where anything that could go wrong, did.

The comedy in that version, which was written by Neil Simon, was derived from elements as subtle as a box of Cracker Jacks or as blatant as an exploding manhole cover.

No such classic moments emerge from this contemporized version of the movie, although Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin try to distract the audience from the absence of genuine wit. In "The Out-of-Towners" circa 1999, cross-dressing hotel managers and a few silly walks are expected to tide the audience over. The effect is less farce than forced.

The general outline is the same. Martin plays Henry Clark, an Ohio advertising executive who, unbeknownst to his wife, Nancy (Hawn), has been fired from his job. When he goes to New York for an interview with a Madison Avenue agency, Nancy tags along. Then the disasters begin: Planes are re-routed, trains are missed, rental cars are smashed. The Clarks are mugged, they crash a Sexaholics Anonymous meeting, and Henry is arrested. They suffer everything a New York tourist can suffer except a $25 hamburger and a matinee performance of "Cats."

Actually, you can add to that list the movie itself, because "The Out-of-Towners" is a disaster of Manhattan-sized proportions. Rather than the rollicking laugh riot it wants to be, this tepid production remains a static series of unfunny set pieces. The malevolent New York that Lemmon and Dennis navigated has been replaced with an oddly benign Manhattan, as if "The Out-of-Towners" were filmed by the Giuliani Office of Public Information.

Part of the problem is Marc Lawrence's strangely laugh-free script. Part is with Sam Weisman's tiresome, unimaginative direction. But the main thing missing from the movie is a performance from either of the lead players.

Hawn, inside of whom a perfectly terrific 50-something woman seems to be trying desperately to escape, can't make the script sing, even with her signature comic flair. So instead she resorts to the prance-and-flail school of comedy. Martin seems to be sleepwalking until an unintended drug trip sends him into Happy Feet mode. He even resorts to a Groucho Marx imitation, the mark of a truly desperate actor.

Even John Cleese, as an imperious hotel manager with an unusually expressive inner life, can't extract "The Out-of-Towners" from the lead that encases it. Watching its vignettes unfold with bland and plodding predictability, "The Out-of-Towners" makes you long for the days of simple pleasures, like Cracker Jacks and exploding manhole covers.

`The Out-of-Towners'

Starring Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, John Cleese

Directed by Sam Weisman

Released by Paramount Pictures

Rated PG-13 (some sex and drug-related humor)

Running time: 91 minutes

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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