Sony // 1978 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 21st, 2002
The best two-hour vacation in town!
Everyone loves the wild and wacky state that is California. Is there any other place on earth where America is more enthralled with the going-ons of its citizens? Tabloids, magazines, and TV shows are devoted to the golden state and its unending parade of weirdoes, movie stars and celebrities. Neil Simon, foremost playwright/screenwriter of such hits as Murder By Death and The Odd Couple, came up with a humorous script about some lively people staying in a posh Los Angeles hotel in the span of one weekend. Starring a talented cast including Walter Matthau (Grumpy Old Men), Bill Cosby (TV's The Cosby Show), Elaine May (writer of The Birdcage), Richard Pryor (See No Evil, Hear No Evil), Alan Alda (Crimes And Misdemeanors), Jane Fonda (Every fitness video ever made), Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters) and in an Oscar winning role as an Oscar nominated actress, Maggie Smith (Hook), Simon's California Suite is now on DVD care of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
Featuring five different couples, California Suite is a wacky comedy about life, love, losing at the Oscars, and drunken infidelity.
Bitter New York native Hannah (Jane) and laid-back Californian Bill (Alda) are reuniting after nine years of divorce. The couple have come together to discuss the future of their daughter (Diff'rent Strokes's Dana Plato) who wants to live with her father.
In another room Dana Barrie (Smith) is awaiting the Academy Awards ceremony where she's up for an acting award. Her "partner" Sidney (Caine) is a wisecracking lover who may not be what he seems. After she loses the award, Sidney must contend with Dana's frustration and bitterness at the loss.
In yet another suite is Marvin Michaels (Matthau) from Philadelphia. Marvin's brother Harry (Herbert Edelman, Stan from TV's The Golden Girls) has gotten him drunk and rented him a hooker. Now Marvin's morning is about to turn sour if he can't keep the passed out prostitute out of sight from his visiting wife (May)!
Finally there's Doctors Gump (Pryor) and Panama (Cosby) who are vacationing with their respective wives in lovely California. However, their peaceful rest may turn into an all out war as the two men fight over tennis, hotel reservations, and anything else that comes their way!
Over the past month I've had the chance to view a bunch of Neil Simon films. I recently watched Murder By Death, The Odd Couple and now California Suite. I'd have to contend that California Suite is probably the weakest of the three films. It has some very funny moments in it, but as a whole I felt that the script was either somewhat outdated or often too crackling for its own good. There were moments in this movie that had me busting up (a scene of seemingly unending slapstick ensues between Pryor and Cosby's characters after an argument), but there were also moments where the dialogue just didn't ring true. This was especially true with Jane Fonda's character. I had the feeling that I was watching her perform in a stage play from 1965. I just never had the feeling that any of these characters were real (save Matthau's suffering Marvin, which is basically Matthau doing his typical funny stuff). Much of the banter just sounds...well, stiff.
By all accounts California Suite has a dream cast (if your dream cast is from the 1970s). Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Richard Pryor, Walter Matthau -- this is a great group of actors and comedians. In fact, just to see Cosby and Pryor together is reason enough to see this movie. While California Suite may not be the best Neil Simon movie every made, it does include some enjoyable performances and moments. I loved watching Matthau try to hide a drunken hooker from his wife (faking everything from gastric pains to sexual excitement), and Michael Caine throws off some pretty funny one-liners care of Simon's script. While I'm not sure Maggie Smith's performance was Oscar worthy, she still shines as a woman who loses the biggest award of them all.
All in all, California Suite has some funny scenes and witty writing. Stacked up against classic comedies California Suite may not be a contender, but compared to the Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler movies being made today, it's a Godsend.
California Suite is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Much like the recently released Murder By Death, California Suite tends to suffer from some softness and minor imperfections. There is a bit of grain in the picture, though with the age of the film this can be forgiven. There is also a small amount of edge enhancement in some scenes, though this too is minimal and shouldn't detract from the viewing. Not a great transfer, but not a horrible one either.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono 1.0 in both English and French. While very unimpressive, this audio track does the job that's needed. All aspects of the dialogue, effects and music are clear of any distortion. Depth and fidelity are very, very low...but then again, this is a mono track, so what else would you expect? Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
There isn't one single supplement featured on this edition of California Suite, and we all know what that means. No tips for the bellboy.
It's got laughs, it's got tears, and it's got Richard Pryor attempting to attack Bill Cosby with a tennis racket. Needless to say, California Suite is well worth the rental. Columbia has done an only a so-so job on this transfer, though the biggest travesty is the fact that there's not one extra feature available on this disc!
California Suite is free to go, though Columbia is slapped with a major fine for only slight work on this title.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated PG