Checking Out

2006, Movie, PG-13, 94 mins


Actor-turned-writer Allen Swift's play comes to the screen with staginess intact, and despite attractive cinematography and some nice New York City location footage, the material's provenance is never far from the surface. After a long, colorful career that stretches back to the heyday of Yiddish theater on New York City's Lower East Side, 90-year-old retired Broadway star Morris Applebaum (Peter Falk) has reached a momentous decision: It's time to give up the ghost. Morris has lived a long, fruitful life filled with rave reviews, adoring fans and wild evenings spent in the company of Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock; one unforgettable party ended with a drunken Morris performing The Tempest in its entirety from the fire escape of his New York City apartment. But since the death of his wife, with whom he often performed Shakespeare — sometimes in Yiddish — life has felt diminished by half. So Morris decides to throw himself a big party, then commit suicide. The news brings his three grown children racing to New York, luggage in one hand and emotional baggage in the other. Daughter Flo (Laura San Giacomo) is a successful Los Angeles sitcom creator and producer, but can't maintain a successful relationship. Perfect child Ted (David Paymer) is now a neurotic, twice-divorced therapist. Barry (Judge Reinhold) is married with two kids (Dan Byrd, Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but in Morris eyes he's the real disappointment — he not only shortened his name to the less Jewish-sounding "Apple," but sells "Nazi" cars in Providence, Rhode Island. Though Flo, Ted, Barry and Barry's wife, Rhonda (Shera Danese), frantically try to dissuade Morris from implementing his plan — they even enlist the help of a therapist (Jeffrey D. Sams) who, it turns out, is both black and Jewish — Morris escapes and makes all his final arrangements. One of the film's underlying jokes seems to be that one of the world's most populous cities is in fact a small town. But its denouement, which attempts to solve everyone's personal problems, relies excessively on crossed paths — everyone winds up being connected by the night Morris played Prospero from the fire escape — and the coincidences are absurd, even by comedic-farce standards. Swift's play, adapted by television writer Richard Marcus, is filled with sitcom declamations and one-line zingers that are all timed for a live audience but sound stagy without one. Falk is as good as ever and the rest give it their all; you couldn't ask for a better cast, just better material. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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