It's painful to watch all this talent trying so hard to make something of nothing.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Grumpier Old Men" is a an embarrassing effort to extend the surprising success of the first installment. In a glaring insensitivity to the ingredients of their own victory, the producers have dropped the real star of their show: the frozen Minnesota winter. The ice and snow that controlled the residents and propelled the jokes have been replaced by a summer landscape that turns Minnesota into the most ordinary of suburbs.

In a continuing two-man war story, John (Jack Lemmon) and Max (Walter Matthau) continue to nourish themselves on the humiliation they inflict on each other. The first movie focused on John's comic courtship of the merry widow Ariel (Ann-Margret); the second opens with confirmation that all is well with their unlikely marriage.

While the envious Max videotapes the scene from next door, the adoring Ariel sculpts her naked husband as "The Thinker." Something has to be done about lonely Max. And so, with exactly the same likelihood of Ann-Margret's moving to Minnesota, Sophia Loren, as Maria Ragetti, drops into this dysfunctional town to turn the boys' favorite bait shop into an Italian restaurant.

A situation as silly as this must either be wrapped in charm or buoyed by belly laughs. The first movie had a bit of both. Although the collective talents of this cast could sustain any major comedy, their combined efforts can't hoist this one beyond boredom. They are stranded in a bad script.

Unengaged, we are reduced to examining face-lifts, capped teeth, and the general well-being of a group of aging stars. On this level, Sophia Loren is an astonishing sight--still glorious in every respect, trying with all her intelligence and flair to lift her leaden lines.

In a charmless subplot to the war between friends, the odd couple's son and daughter (Daryl Hannah and Kevin Pollak) are to be married. Their gloomy romance, intended as a comic focus, casts a pall for miles.

After some success the first time around with making Burgess Meredith a dirty old man at 90 something, the producers inundate him this time with flat jokes about cucumbers, salami, and a one night stand with Sophia's mother, Francesca (Ann Guilbert.) Guilbert lightens things a little with her general nastiness. She is indeed a grumpy old woman.

Jack Lemmon can still immobilize us with the sadness in his eyes; Matthau can still massage a line with his furrowed brow. But they have been undermined by producers who thought they had the golden formula and turned lazy in their success. At the very least, they should have held onto that icebound landscape that produced so many laughs.

Not one of the four principals is dotty enough to be relegated to the silliness that Hollywood equates with old age. It's painful to watch all this talent trying so hard to make something of nothing. For this formula, even when it was fresh, once was indeed enough.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 487
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 1h40m

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