The Out-Of-Towners

1999, Movie, PG-13, 91 mins


Ohio natives Henry and Nancy Clark (Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn) are having a hell of a time getting to New York for Henry's big job interview: Their plane is diverted to Boston, they miss the train, they rent a car and get lost on the Cross Bronx Expressway. And things don't improve once they arrive: Every mugger, snotty hotel manager (John Cleese, in high Fawlty mode), bank robber, overzealous cop and nosy neighbor in the city that never sleeps seems to be gunning for them. Granted, this is a transparent star vehicle for Martin and Hawn, whose considerable comic gifts sometimes transcend the shopworn material with which they're forced to work. But Neil Simon's script, retooled by veteran sitcom writer Marc Lawrence, is little more than a string of gags and Martin's contortions in the service of extracting peanut butter crackers from a recalcitrant vending machine are treated as classic slapstick. There's something a touch sad about performers in their (admittedly supremely well-preserved) 50s going through the motions of goofy gaffes and pratfalls. Charlie Chaplin's later movies took advantage of the pathos inherent in the sight of an older performer taking the physical buffetting of comic indignities: This movie ignores the whole issue, leading to awkward improbabilities like the scene in which a slimy L.A. agent hits on Hawn in a hotel bar. In what bizarro universe do shallow Hollywood types make passes at women old enough to be their mothers? The cameo by New York's "quality of life" watchdog, Rudolph Giuliani, is a serendipitous touch: Having the luckless Clarks get caught having sex in Central Park by any other recent mayor wouldn't be so apropos a gag. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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