Category Archives: Directed by Howard Deutch

Grumpier Old Men (1995, Howard Deutch)

The first half of Grumpier Old Men is such an improvement over the original, it could be a paragon of sequels. Director Deutch knows how to showcase the actors amid all the physical comedy. There’s a lot of physical comedy and sight gags in Grumpier. There’s Walter Matthau doing the Saturday Night Fever strut while in his mid-seventies and in a bathrobe in rural but probably not that rural, they just never talk about it, Minnesota. Grumpier has a lot of laughs. It’s learned from the experience of the previous one; screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson has, as far as setting up scenes for this particular cast, learned.

And Deutch has just the right take on the material, just the right balance between laughing at the characters and with them. And it’s sometimes hard to laugh with Matthau and fellow septuagenarian rascal, Jack Lemmon. They’re dicks to new girl in town Sophia Loren, who’s just an Italian bombshell with a heart of gold trying to find the right man even though her mama (Ann Morgan Guilbert) thinks she’s cursed in love. Grumpier definitely never feels like an homage to an Italian melodrama from the late seventies, but you can at least imagine Loren and Guilbert having these arguments for the last forty years. You can’t really imagine Lemmon and Matthau when they’re not in the middle of a movie adventure; this time they’re planning their kids’ wedding—Lemmon’s daughter, Daryl Hannah, is marrying Matthau’s son, Kevin Pollak—then Loren comes to town and there’s the whole run the new girl out of town because she isn’t going to sell live bait in the boys’ old bait shop. Frankly, it’s a disappointment Ossie Davis doesn’t show up as a ghost. It’d be a bad move, but a likable one.

Because halfway through Grumpier Old Men, the film runs out of energy and then realizes it hasn’t been doing much with the story. The first half is Matthau mugging for the camera and fight-flirting with Loren. Lemmon’s the sidekick; outside a couple solid laughs, Lemmon and Ann-Margret are entirely support in the first act. They come back at the end of the second, when we get a preview of the spin-off melodrama where Capulet Hannah and Montague Pollak discover they can’t make the marriage work because their bloodlines hate each other. Actually, a divorce melodrama with this cast would be amazing. And might be a more appropriate use the Alan Silvestri score.

Because the third act solution to the kids’ relationship problems, manipulate Daryl Hannah. For her own good. With the help of her child. Because Grumpier Old Men isn’t older adult empowerment as much as it is the Little Rascals with Lemmon and Matthau. There’s the preview of that eventuality when they pull pranks on Loren before she opens her restaurant because they want to run her out of business. Loren’s solution? Cleavage, a red dress, a Monroe wiggle, and trying to seduce Matthau in the depressing town bar. Some of its optics distract from other of its optics and Loren and Matthau are really funny so… it gets a pass but it was probably foreshadowing for the second and third act problems.

Especially since they also get themselves out of every subplot’s narrative pickle in the laziest, most manipulative way possible—particularly taking into account the target audience, White grandparents and their grandchildren, stuck together on a holiday afternoon. Deus Deus Ex: Grumpier Old Men and BLANK: For now they kill me with a living death. But no spoilers. You can guess, though, if you’re familiar with the actor. Nudge nudge.

All those complaints made… it’s kind of a lot of fun for a while. Matthau’s schtick is great. Loren’s great. Burgess Meredith—as Lemmon’s foul-mouth-and-minded ninety-five year-old dad—is hilarious. Lemmon’s fine. Turns out he’s funnier in the outtakes, which is a weird way to end the movie, showing how much funnier it could have been if you weren’t going for so bland. Ann-Margret gets the worst part, outside Hannah. And Pollak, because Pollak’s unlikable. Especially when he gets stale, scene-ending one-liner observations about the human condition in middle class nineties America, especially with aging parents; part of Deutch’s lack of personality is his obvious inability to say no to bad ideas; it makes him a tragic figure in the Grumpier mess.

It’s kind of worth it for the cast.

It’s also definitely more successful than the first, even if it ends up disappointing. Matthau gets a solid part. Loren’s got a much better part than anyone else in the movie besides him… which is a qualified compliment but… it’s cute. In an absurd way. Especially given it’s appropriate for all ages but wants to keep everyone in the audience awake.

So maybe the droning, simplistic, brain-addling Silvestri score sends subliminal messages to knock out anyone who’d be offended by all the dick jokes. They were going to have fart jokes too—because it’s a theme in the outtakes—but apparently someone decided fart jokes would be too far.

Grumpier Old Men could be a whole lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Deutch; written by Mark Steven Johnson; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Maryann Brandon, Seth Flaum, and Billy Weber; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; costume designer, Lisa Jensen; produced by John Davis and Richard C. Berman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Walter Matthau (Max Goldman), Sophia Loren (Maria Sophia Coletta Ragetti), Jack Lemmon (John Gustafson), Ann Morgan Guilbert (Mama Ragetti), Ann-Margret (Ariel Gustafson), Daryl Hannah (Melanie Gustafson), Kevin Pollak (Jacob Goldman), Katie Sagona (Allie), Burgess Meredith (Grandpa Gustafson).


Article 99 (1992, Howard Deutch)

Director of not one, not two, but three 1980s John Hughes movies, Howard Deutch applies those hard-earned skills to remaking M*A*S*H and, shockingly, doesn’t do too bad of a job. Sure, Article 99 is absurd and Lea Thompson as a doctor is a hoot, but its well-intentioned and sensitive to its characters. I’d heard of the movie before–I think I even have an Article 99 scrub shirt–but I thought it was a period piece, set either during Vietnam or just after. Instead, it’s set in modernity, which allows for the villains to be Republicans without military service who are trying to save a buck at the expense of veterans. Kind of eerie, isn’t it?

Even with a terrible opening–after a moderately classy, if way too forced Americana title sequence–pissed off vet Leo Burmester (nicknamed Shooter) tries to take the hospital hostage. It’s a loony sequence, but it introduces all of the characters pretty well and is one of the few times Article 99 is trying to be its own thing, instead of that M*A*S*H remake. It’s also the first time Danny Elfman reuses some of his more famous scores in Article 99 (though his love theme for the film, which seems to be an original, is nice). Following that sequence, Article 99 calms down a bit. There are hijinks, evil bureaucrats and so on, but it doesn’t jar the viewer’s suspension of disbelief until the end.

The reason Article 99 succeeds, even with the cartoonishness, is its actors. Kiefer Sutherland is earnest (even if his character making it through medical school seems unlikely) and likable. Forest Whitaker and John C. McGinley are good in supporting roles. I already mentioned the unbearably terrible Thompson, but Deutch seemed to realize it and only kept ten of her lines in the picture. But there’s Eli Wallach and Keith David to make up for it. Wallach has some great scenes with Sutherland and some great dialogue too (the script’s got a bunch of good one liners). David’s the all-knowing vet and even though the character’s goofy, David makes it work. John Mahoney’s villain is a solid John Mahoney villain, if a little less ruthless (he doesn’t get to kill anyone) than the usual.

I saved this paragraph just for Ray Liotta and Kathy Baker. Liotta’s performance–a leading man performance–is fantastic. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t make it as a lead, just because he’s so obvious great at it. Except then there’s the romance with Baker. Their courtship–and Elfman’s score for it–is one of the best things about Article 99, even if it seems totally out of place, both in terms of plot and quality.

Article 99 has its highs and lows, but wisely starts at its lowest point (the silly plot development at the end is more palatable after Burmester driving his car into the hospital in the opening). There’s a real sincerity to it, not just in the approach to the content, but also in the presentation of it. Liotta has a scene where he lectures amoral boss Mahoney on the duties of VA doctors and makes it work. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Deutch; written by Ron Cutler; director of photography, Richard Bowen; edited by Richard Halsey; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Virginia L. Randolph; produced by Michael Gruskoff and Michael I. Levy; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Ray Liotta (Dr. Richard Sturgess), Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Peter Morgan), Forest Whitaker (Dr. Sid Handleman), Lea Thompson (Dr. Robin Van Dorn), John C. McGinley (Dr. Rudy Bobrick), John Mahoney (Dr. Henry Dreyfoos), Keith David (Luther Jermoe), Kathy Baker (Dr. Diana Walton), Eli Wallach (Sam Abrams), Noble Willingham (Inspector General), Julie Bovasso (Amelia Sturdeyvant), Troy Evans (Pat Travis), Lynne Thigpen (Nurse White), Jeffrey Tambor (Dr. Leo Krutz), Leo Burmester (Shooter Polaski), Ernest Abuba (Ikiro Tenabe) and Rutanya Alda (Ann Travis).


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