Judge Clark Douglas just wants to watch the lottery numbers in peace.
Our review of Best of Warner Brothers: 20-Film Comedy Collection, published July 14th, 2013, is also available.
A fifty-year fight.
Max: "Good morning, dickhead."
Facts of the Case
John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon, Glengarry Glen Ross) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau, The Bad News Bears) have been friendly rivals for decades. At every opportunity, they play pranks on each other, call each other names, and generally make each other's lives miserable. They wouldn't have it any other way. Their little routine of petty arguments and irritability continues as usual, until a woman named Ariel (Ann-Margret, Tommy) moves into town. She's the most beautiful woman either of them has ever seen and they're both desperate to bed her. Alas, their romantic competition leads to an increasingly tense relationship that borders on becoming a bit too nasty. Meanwhile, John's daughter (Daryl Hannah, Splash) and Max's son (Kevin Pollock, Hostage) begin to develop a relationship of their own.
Everybody loves a great comedic duo. From the early days of cinema, there have been numerous pairs who made quite a living doing Yin vs. Yang routines: Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, Oliver Hardy & Stan Laurel, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope & Bing Crosby, Cheech Marin & Tommy Chong…you get the idea. Alas, there is one common thread that tends to unite the works of these pairs: For every good film they would produce, there would inevitably be an underwhelming effort that cheaply attempted to cash in on the popularity of the stars involved. Such was the case with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Both gentlemen were superb actors in their own right, but they had a special chemistry together that led them to team up for a grand total of eleven films. Unfortunately, their chemistry was so smooth, many of the later films didn't feel a need to put any significant effort into creating a memorable experience.
The humor here is simply too easy and unimaginative. When you have a cast that includes the likes of Lemmon, Matthau, Ossie Davis, Kevin Pollock, Burgess Meridith, Ann-Margret, and Buck Henry, the screenplay has a responsibility to generate something more impressive than a series of limp, mildly risqué punch lines. These characters are not realistic human beings, but rather a group of goofy caricatures designed to inspire cheap titters among easily amused moviegoers. Do you find the idea of Burgess Meridith as a 94-year-old man spouting off dick jokes amusing? What about a montage of Matthau and Lemmon getting dressed to the strains of "I'm Too Sexy?" How about Matthau making goofy faces while looking at a statue of a naked man? If so, then you will undoubtedly be immensely pleased with Grumpy Old Men, because there is plenty more where that came from.
The film was a pretty big hit for Warner Bros. when it was released back in 1993, and it's easy to see why. Grumpy Old Men certainly does what it can to push every available emotional button. When it isn't going for cheap laughs via an endless stream of PG-13 sex jokes, the film veers into shameless emotional sentiment. Alan Silvestri's score effectively highlights the slightly insufferable nature of the story being told, offering goofy tuba music during the comic sequences and oh-so-sugary strings during its handful of serious moments. Somewhere beneath all the rubbish, there is a touching and amusing story about two men desperately hanging on to whatever life will permit them in their later years. It's too bad such potential is completely buried by the considerable layers of dreck that define Grumpy Old Men.
The Blu-ray transfer is pretty solid, a notch or two better than what I've come to expect from comedies over a decade old. Blacks are nice and deep, scratches and flecks are nowhere to be found, and the natural, understated grain is left intact to pleasing effect. The film may not have any noteworthy visuals to offer other than the attractive Minnesota setting, but it gets the job done quite effectively. As far as the audio is concerned, I was a little surprised to discover the disc is given a 2.0 stereo track rather than a 5.1 surround mix. The TrueHD audio is clean and clear, and I'm honestly not sure a 5.1 would have been particularly useful considering the low-key audio here. While a remix would have been nice, what we get is perfectly sufficient. Sadly, the only extra included on the disc is a theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite significant flaws in direction (helmed by Donald Petrie, whose resume is full of equally irritating "comedies") and the screenplay (written by Mark Steven Johnson, who is responsible for just as many financially successful duds), there is undoubtedly some pleasure to be found in watching Lemmon and Matthau at work. Even when dealing with poor material, their effortless chemistry generates some smiles. It's unsurprising such a poor film generated so many forgiving reviews; one cannot help but like these guys. I like them too, but I know they're capable of far more than what this film gives them.
The transfer is fine, but the film is still underwhelming, despite the fine actors involved.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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