MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Steve Martin (Henry Clark), Goldie Hawn (Nancy Clark), John Cleese (Hotel Manager), Tom Riis Farrell (Mugger)
Sam Weisman's remake of "The Out-of-Towners" is a somewhat predictable, but nevertheless entertaining ode to anyone from a smaller town who has ever had trouble in a big city. Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn (taking over the roles played in the 1970 original by Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis) star as Henry and Nancy Clark, a married couple from Ohio whose children have recently grown up and moved away, leaving them with an empty nest and too much time on their hands. They still have each other, but neither one wants to admit that their marriage is in a rut and in a need of a good jolt.
That jolt comes in the form of a two-day trip to New York City, where Henry is scheduled for an important job interview. Nancy thinks he just wants to move up the career ladder and make more money, but Henry is hiding from her the fact that he has been laid off and desperately needs to get this job. He intends to take the trip alone, but Nancy, desperate to inject some spontaneity and passion into their relationship, shows up on the plane at the last minute to go with him.
Trouble starts when their plane is diverted to Boston, and they miss the train to New York. They have to rent a car, which is billed as a luxury sedan, but for some reason has a heater that won't shut off. Things only get worse once they get to the core of the Big Apple, as they are mugged by an Andrew Lloyd Webber-impersonator, thrown out of their hotel because their credit card is rejected, chased by a rottweiler, accidentally stumble into a meeting of Sexaholics Anonymous, and almost get arrested for public fornication when a sudden wave of friskiness overtakes them in Central Park.
The original script for "The Out-of-Towners" was written by playwright Neil Simon, and having not seen the original, it is hard to make comparisons. Screenwriter Marc Lawrence ("Forces of Nature") doesn't give the new script much of a backbone; ostensibly, the movie is intended to be about how Henry and Nancy rekindle their romance by going through hell together, but this plotline is fractured and somewhat forced. The pratfalls are interspersed with a few emotional scenes in which Nancy tearfully confesses to Henry that she wants more out of life than what he wants to do, which he boils down to reading and fixing things around the house. "Where do I fit into that?" she asks, while you might questioning where this scene fits into the overall tone of the film.
What enjoyment there is in "The Out-of-Towners" is watching Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn do what they do best. It's hard to tell if they're playing real characters or not, because they each seem to be doing what they (as actors) are best known for, which entails Martin acting like he's about to burst at any moment and Hawn bursting at just about every moment. It's hard to watch Martin go through a travel nightmare without being reminded of "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" (1987), which "The Out-of-Towners" often resembles. He even has a scene where he gets to finally explode on an unsuspecting woman who would rather talk on the phone than deal with him, but it's not nearly as shocking or hilarious as Martin's "F-word"-laden assault on Edie McClurg in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."
Director Sam Weisman ("George of the Jungle") keeps the pace moving right along, but the script doesn't allow him much room to work; you can see the jokes coming from a mile away. When Martin, starving and down to his last two quarters, plunks his money into a vending machine, you just know the food won't come out. Or, when Henry and Nancy start their amorous rendezvous in Central Park, you just know that they will somehow end up bathed in spotlight and stared at by many people.
The movie does have its good scenes, and for them it is almost worth watching. John Cleese, doing a riff on his "Fawulty Towers" character, has an amusing bit role as a snooty hotel manager with a surprising secret, and there's a funny, sustained sequence where Hawn successfully seduces a self-assured young Hollywood executive so she can get the keys to his hotel room and order room service. These scenes have zip and appeal, and they make you wonder if there's anything the filmmakers could have done to make the rest of the movie as good.
©1999 James Kendrick