Tuesday, April 6, 1999

Empty luggage

Movie: The Out-of-Towners

Posted on Tue, Apr 6, 1999 at 4:00 AM

**
Our Rating: 2.00

In Neil Simon's "The Out-of-Towners," the 1970s comedy of paranoiac proportions directed by Arthur Hiller, Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis play a couple who leave their suburban Ohio home and encounter a multitude of mishaps in the scarily seedy Big Apple. Almost 30 years later, Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn are the suburban couple set loose in a significantly tamed New York City, in a remake by director Sam Weismann and screenwriter Marc Lawrence.

While the original forced us to laugh at our frustrations with modern life, the follow-up seems to have no concept of what made the original film work so well: The frantic pace and comedic tension created by missed trains, canceled planes and the general chaos of two neurotics lost in an overcrowded city.

The update retains the plot premise, but Weismann, whose last outing was "George of the Jungle," eschews the claustrophobic techniques used by Hiller and relies primarily on sight gags. Watch Hawn be chased by a dog. Watch Martin do backrolls down a luggage conveyor belt. Watch them both dangle perilously from a hotel marquee. The couple also crash a sex-addicts meeting, make love in Central Park while Mayor Giuliani looks on and get mugged by a man Hawn swears is Andrew Lloyd-Weber. The comedic moments are too outlandish to even be funny.

The film's brightest moments come in the beefed-up role of the hotel manager, played with wit and charm by John Cleese. The couple catches him in the act of dancing to Donna Summers' "Bad Girls" in drag and then blackmails him into helping them. Cleese somehow manages to make the outrageous character thoroughly entertaining and extremely funny.

Martin and Hawn, who have both shown themselves to be adept physical comedians, aren't at the top of their game with "The Out-of-Towners." Martin employs one too many "wild and crazy guy" flashbacks, and Hawn comes off quite often as a lesser Lucille Ball substitute. All of the over-the-top antics, combined with Martin's incessant mugging, make it difficult to take the film very seriously. For the most part, these "Out-of-Towners" should have stayed home.

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