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Out to Sea

Review by Carrie Gorringe
Posted 2 July 1997


Directed by Martha Coolidge

Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau,
Dyan Cannon, Brent Spiner, Gloria de Haven,
Donald O’Connor, Hal Linden, and Elaine Strich

Screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs

The title of this poor excuse for a comedy should have been Up the Comedic Creek Without a Credible Hook. Ever since the Grumpy Old Men franchise took off, there seems to be a plethora of horrid films filled with lame jokes about incontinence, impotence, and flatulence, and, admittedly, the original GOM had some touching moments, especially when the two rivals for neighbor Ann Margret are forced to acknowledge their loneliness, impending mortality and the costs of egotistical infighting. There is no such insight here; screenwriter Jacobs decided to excise the charm and fill in the blanks with more blank, tedious comedy. It seems that setting a film on a ocean liner inspires insipidness in screenwriters (Speed 2 being offered up as prima facie evidence of said syndrome) and this film is no exception. Everyone in the highly talented cast displays no charm whatsoever – an amazing feat for director Coolidge, who put considerable charm into Ramblin’ Rose but has descended beyond the aptly-named Clueless territory that she earlier set for herself into something far more insipid – and anything more insipid than Clueless is a genuine, if dubious, achievement. Out to Sea, in fact, is Clueless on the senior circuit, possessing the same inane, self-satisfied, self-evident sarcasm that passes for wit these days; the only joke in Out to Sea that inspires a modicum of laughter has as its basis a deliberate misunderstanding between steaming pants and steaming lobster. Since that "joke" occurs close to the beginning of the film, you know that it is heading straight for the iceberg by reel four, and, in this only instance, alas, Out to Sea does not disappoint. Not even Donald O’ Connor’s fancy footwork can allow him to two-step his way out of a comedy that it would be no exaggeration to describe as abusive, insofar as it degrades the considerable reputations of all participants.

Everyone involved here is in desperate need of the acid wit of Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, co-authors of the hilarious Matthau-Lemmon collaboration, 1966’s The Fortune Cookie. Fortune Cookie gave Matthau one of his best moments -- and his only Oscar -- as the ambulance-chasing lawyer, "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich, out to defraud an insurance company to the benefit of himself and his hapless brother-in-law, Harry Hinkle (played by Lemmon). Not that Wilder’s film didn’t contain moments of bedpan humor – such as when Gingrich offers up " a quarter of a million [dollars] on a silver platter" while offering Hinkle the aforementioned sanitation device– but the vulgarity of the situation underscored the brashness of Gingrich, becoming a metaphor for his sleazy demeanor. Not to put too fine a point on things, but Wilder and Diamond made certain the gag was significant, unlike the sludge proffered by Coolidge and Jacobs. If Diamond and Wilder exist, disputably, the penthouse of comedic screenwriting, the script for Out to Sea is indisputably in the bargain basement the day after a clearance sale. It’s a sad sequel for everyone, but especially for Lemmon and Matthau, who are capable of and deserve much better treatment. Perhaps, before taking on this sorry film, they should have remembered the quotation from Abe Lincoln included in Hinkle’s fortune cookie – something about not being able to fool all of the people all of the time.

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