Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones are ‘Just Getting Started’ on the way to a blossoming rivalry. From writer/director Ron Shelton, comes the new screwball comedy that takes budding heads to a whole new level. Morgan Freeman stars as Duke Diver, the freewheeling manager of the luxury Palm Springs resort, the Villa Capri. Diver may have a mysterious past, but he’s a pro at making sure that life for the high-spirited residents is one big, non-stop party. But the status quo and peaceful existence is challenged when ex-military charmer Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) checks in, triggering a competition between he and Duke for the top spot of Alpha male, as well as for the affections of the newly-arrived Suzie (Rene Russo). When Duke’s past suddenly catches up with him, the rivals put aside their differences and the two men reluctantly team up to stop whoever is trying to kill Duke, and also save the citizens of the Villa Capri. ‘Just Getting Started is rated PG-13 for adult language, suggestive material and brief violence.
If Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were still alive, they would be making movies like ‘Just Getting Started’. Twenty-five years ago, the two struck gold on senior citizen comedy in films like ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and ‘The Odd Couple 2’ because of their endless supply of on and off-screen chemistry that carried over into the magnetic presence within their film projects. But even after their sadly passing, Hollywood is still as eager as ever to find the next group of elderly gentlemen to turn a quick buck, opting to invest in a film like this at least once a year to put critics like myself in a bad mood so close to Christmas. Yes, it’s low hanging fruit to make fun of the elderly, but a film like ‘Just Getting Started’ is fuel for the ever-growing fire of inevitable insults hurled at these kind of movies that transpire about as quickly as this kind of age group moves gingerly. It’s been a couple of months since I have truly hated a film, but Ron Shelton has gift-wrapped a lump of coal that reeks in desperation and laziness to the that it’s instantly forgettable even as you’re sitting down to take in all of its ineffectiveness.
Like a frog jumping from pad to pad, this film too searches for anything of structured substance to carry the weight of wasted minutes that seem to add up the more the film transpires. Everything about Shelton’s screenplay reflects that of a television sitcom script that some cocky executive felt was just not good enough to make it into 100 episodes of material in his own universe. I say this because nothing within the film holds any kind of gravity or depth in terms of the overall bigger picture, settling what little obstacles that it has in a matter of minutes without breaking a sweat. In addition to this, there are so many subplots at play that never feel like they cohesively work together to make one fluent progression, and instead settle for a series of short-term ideas that roughly jumble the gap until the next one comes along. For instance, this film’s setting makes it a Christmas movie, but you would never know it from the trailers that never mention this perk even once. The film deems its importance just as irrelevant, as the very idea of the Christmas season rarely plays into anything than a remote reminder occasionally in the 85 minute presentation. To take away once more from a better film like ‘Grumpy Old Men’, the film of course has a competition for a pretty girl between its two male protagonists, proving that even nearly three decades later women are still nothing more than arm pieces for the macho male ego that never seems to advance in these films.
Perhaps the aspect in story that really blew my mind was the dramatically sharp turn that this film takes in the final act that not only isn’t built even remotely along the way, but also highlights everything wrong with this lazy production. The movie turns into a kind of buddy action hybrid complete with shoot-outs and high-speed chases that feel so foreign to the previous hour of atmosphere that the film seemed destined to follow. This wouldn’t be so bad if it presented us with even a moment of urgency, or something appealing visually in terms of camera work or sequencing. Because of the one location setting between Freeman and Jones in the car, as well as the fact that neither have to change clothes in these scenes, really gives off the feeling that many of these sequences were shot in one day of shooting, complete with C.G green-screen to do most of the work along the way. What’s even more disturbing is that much of the green-screen doesn’t match up to what is transpiring on-screen between our protagonists and antagonist visually. One scene involves Jones spinning the wheel of his truck to keep pace on the tail of his enemy, but in this turn you don’t ever see the other vehicle in the driver’s side window to reflect where a vehicle ahead would be at that certain movement in time to keep up with the consistency of the depiction. How could they be so lazy? Do they treat senior citizens in the same way that they treat kids, in that maybe they’re too stupid to understand what they’re watching?
Considering this is a comedy-first kind of movie, the laughs too offered very little positive returns in at least trying to convince me that I was having a good time. To say that I only laughed once in this entire film shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the lack of attempts overall really should. In addition to the final act of the movie that is definitely an action dominated genre during these minutes, there’s a noticeable gap of around twenty minutes in the middle of the second act where the film almost forgets that it is supposed to be a comedy, crafting scenes that come and go without any establishing of what the desired punchline was supposed to be. On top of this, the second act is littered with unfunny musical montage scenes between Freeman and Jones in a five event competition to determine who has to leave the Villa. It’s hard enough to sit through this without enjoying yourself comically, but made even worse considering the outcome has absolutely zero effect on the loser who is supposed to agree to walk away, but doesn’t.
The performances as well offer little in the way of energy to at least make this sitting tolerable. Matthau and Lemmon were in some pretty bad films in the later part of their careers (‘Out To Sea’ comes to mind), but they were always tolerable because you couldn’t ignore the chemistry between them that omitted some irresistible one-liners. Here, Freeman is working a one man show, as he feels like the only actor who brought anything of substance to his character. Everyone else is simply phoning this in, including Rene Russo’s character who might be one of my absolute least favorite of the year. Morgan continues the air of charisma that warms the heart of his fans everywhere. In Duke, we see a different side of Freeman’s reservoir that writes him as a con artist of sorts to everyone he comes across. It’s refreshing to see Morgan play this kind of coward character who has to cheat to keep up, but the screenplay does so very little with an important first act for setting what is so full proof about this middle of the desert scheme. Tommy Lee Jones continues the same role that he has played for the better part of two decades. I say that because you could tell me that this is the same character from a sharply opposite toned movie like ‘No Country For Old Men’ and I would believe you. The chemistry between he and Freeman is remotely there, but the final scenes doesn’t offer a shred of reflection to the blossoming friendship that we all knew was coming from the revealing trailers. The movie tells us about this blossoming development, but never shows us in expositional form, and it’s the final note of an otherwise easily forgettable slug of a script.
THE VERDICT – The film may be ‘Just Getting Started’, but the lack of clearly defined comedy, as well as a screenplay that is all over the place creatively, left me inching towards the exit with each passing moment. Freeman’s twinkling personality does shine occasionally, but even it can’t escape the poorly structured roots of exposition along the way, as well as the inescapable taste of mediocrity in a gift-wrapped final sequence leaves this film retiring itself long before it rightfully should.