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Review by Elias Savada
Posted 25 February 2000

Directed by John Asher.

Starring Kirk Douglas, 
Dan Aykroyd, Corbin Allred, 
Kurt Fuller, Jenny McCarthy, 
Mariah O’Brien, and Lauren Bacall.

 Written by Allan Aaron Katz.

Kirk Douglas’ eighty-third feature won’t be his last, but it certainly will not be among the more memorable of a lengthy career spanning more than fifty years. It’s a male-bonding road movie that veers off a weary course filled with dreary clichés on the way to a possible treasure in diamonds. The trip is barely worth it. Using a technique similar to last year’s The Limey, in which Terence Stamp’s character from the 1967 Poor Cow pops up anew, there are flashing snippets from Douglas’ classic 1949 effort Champion. Although the character isn’t the same, the black-and-white clips are used to flesh out the pugnacious references to Harry Agensky (Douglas), a.k.a. “The Polish Prince”, a former welterweight champion turned semi-depressed widower recuperating from a speech-debilitating stroke. As a victim of a seizure himself, Douglas obviously wanted Diamonds to show his fans that he can still act and jab (art imitating life), even if the setting appears to be no more than a made-for-television, rebound-from-the-disease-of-the-month movie. Sure, it’s honorable and heartfelt, but the script, riddled with a few too many coincidences, is a mess, especially when cantankerous grandfather (Douglas), milksop, old fashioned son and supposed writer Lance (Dan Aykroyd), and virginal eighteen-year-old grandson Michael (Corbin Allred), hit a speed bump of a brothel outside Reno.

The story begins in wintry Western Canada, where the potentially senile Harry is overstaying his reluctant welcome with frustrated son Moses (Kurt Fuller) and his wife at their lakeside cabin (cinematographer Paul Elliott pleasantly captures the pristine water and snow-capped mountains). The family patriarch, widowed several years, is a restless sort, his only companion being Bev (Karen Mal), a punky, puckered-up speech therapist existing only on videotape and later gifted to his coming-of-age grandson. Enter the divorced Lance and his estranged son in an old red convertible (its broken top always down—Harry supposedly saved from the elements by a hunter’s cap!) and before long they whimsically hijack Harry to the states in search of the titular gems, supposedly hidden in the wall of a gangster’s house in Nevada. It would have been nice to play the film more as a comedy caper picture after offering the audience such an inclination, but director John Asher and newbie screenwriter Allan Aaron Katz (who has a bit part) push any such possibility aside for all but a fraction of the last few minutes, and as such there’s not much to applaud in this tepid story of three generations in search of filial chemistry.

If the film has a noble core, it’s the brief, queenly presence of Lauren Bacall as Sin-Dee, a brothel madam who offers earthy advice and semi-clad, goodhearted, and intelligent-beyond-their-occupation prostitutes to the wayward men. The whorehouse concept is sanitized to the point of inanity, portraying women as love objects at the same time they are showcased as intelligent windows to the soul. Yipes, it’s a dopey retread of the old hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold routine. You’d think the script could have found a better way to service the three leads than through this cleaned-up titillation. For all the gorgeous gals (MTV’s Jenny McCarthy among them), where are all the other patrons? Guess they’re out gambling. It’s a nonsensical sequence dealing with each man’s common inability to perform. Goodness, what a creaky plotline. The only saving grace being Bacall’s deep voice as she soothes the distracted Harry, his lecherous bravado dissipated by his love for his late wife. Bacall and Douglas, who last co-starred together in Young Man With a Horn a half-century ago, both offer up semi-precious performances that are better than the material they are given.

The screenplay is terribly calculated toward a sentimental, up-with-people ending, with a “magical” twist that’s all too obvious a reel earlier. In a way the film bears a close similarity to Diane Keaton’s Hanging Up, as both deal with how families deal with an aging father figure, one from the male point of view, the other from the ladies’ side. Both films misfire in the “where-were-you-when-I-needed-you” department. Both will be quickly forgotten.

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