The chief components of the original 1970 Out-of-Towners, which this futile remake has omitted, weren’t all that sublime to begin with, but they were all the film had: Neil Simon’s script, Arthur Hiller’s direction, and starring roles for Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. Most importantly, New York City itself, ominous and graffiti-scarred, was at its nadir of livabilitythe plot turns on a well-off couple’s being ground down by the city’s great impassive wheels and rediscovering their love in the process.
But if one must update the script for two glossy and well-toned actors and set it in Mayor Giuliani’s newly scrubbed and accommodating metropolis, writer Marc (Forces of Nature) Lawrence does a creditable job of it. Of course, one mustn’t, but it’s too late now. Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin star as Nancy and Henry Clark, a middle-aged Ohio couple at loose ends after their son flies the nest, buffeted by ill luck in the big city. Between their hapless economic travails, they bicker, pratfall, engage in serious talk about their rut, and renew their passion. It’s a sweet idea, and not an unfamiliar onea couple who are insulated from one another by hard-built layers of cash and domestic comfort must lose those things to find again what brought them together in the first place.
Director Weisman keeps his priorities straight: (1) make sure the audience is consistently aware of Hawn’s carefully preserved physique and shiny hair, (2) give Martin a dignified shtick, (3) give another comic actorin this case John Cleesean undignified shtick for the real Schadenfreude guffaws, (4) advertise the delights of the new Disneyfied New York by rigging the story so that the tourist attractions unwittingly humiliate the lead characters and the lead characters humiliate only fictional aspects of New York. If you do plan to visit this friendly, exciting city, be sure to schedule a night at the fabulous Tavern on the Greenperhaps the mayor himself will be in attendanceonly don’t be so stupid as to get caught in flagrante delicto outside its well-lit windows!
Unable to tell his wife that he’s been fired from his advertising agency, Henry heads to New York for a job interview; Nancy, hoping to inject some spontaneity into their stale union, hops the plane at the last minute. Their destination city is hopelessly fogged in, so the plane proceeds to Boston, where the Clarks attempt to take a trainsounds simple, but there’s much slapstick along the way, with their luggage getting lost, Nancy dashing off to the restroom, and a Seinfeld-like encounter with a car-rental agent. Finally, they drive into New York, after taking the requisite wrong turns and demolishing the car at the conveniently locatedfor aficionados of wacky car-demolishingFulton Fish Market. (For those who thought the days of runaway vehicles plowing into slow-moving trucks full of live chickens were over, rest assured that directors have merely moved down the food chain.) Despite these hoary gags and the fear that the film is never going to start, Martin and Hawn keep the energy highalthough Hawn’s display of her toned limbs has the deliberate air of product placementand the two have a crackling old-shoe chemistry that befits the banter of a longtime couple, albeit one with unusually good comic timing.
Upon arriving in New York City, the gullible Clarks agree to be mugged by a thug posing as Andrew Lloyd Webbera strange and very amusing ideaand then find that their sole remaining credit card is no good at the St. Mark Hotel (a fictional creation), because their daughter, a med-school dropout, has run it up to the limit. Finally, they are jettisoned onto the streets, in search of their baggage, their daughter, and their dignity. The film has been open for a week, and already Cleese has racked up another legendary comic character, the supercilious hotel manager, Mr. Mersault. Exquisitely impolite to the cashless, revoltingly fawning to the loaded, Mersault is Basil Fawlty revved into high gear by the demands of big-time hotel administration. And when he’s showboating about a guest’s room in her fur coat, heels, and little net hat to the tune of “Bad Girls,” you can see why it doesn’t occur to Nancy to blackmail him right awaythe sight is too enchanting to be sullied by crime.
Illogical and poorly paced, the film barely manages to hold together, flinging the Clarks into unlikely interaction with one stock band of weirdos after another as they attempt to pass the night before the interview. They never do find the daughter (why the script brings her up at all is a mystery), but at her Village apartment building they encounter paranoid New Yorkers and vicious dogs. Diving into a church that seems to be offering free breakfast pastries, they find themselves at a sex addict’s meeting, where Henry’s recent de-employment comes out. They hang around the hotel like flies on a cake, raiding the nuts and garnishes at the bar while Nancy poses as a prostitute in hopes of spending an hour getting intimate with room service food on a smarmy L.A. agent’s dime (Mark McKinney in a sour, thankless role).
This is the most painful and confusing episode in the film, gentlemanly decorum preventing director Weisman from finding a comic tone that would admit to the absurdity of a hooker d’un certain âge openly soliciting a young man in a fancy hotel. Hawn’s age is referred to obliquely, then ignored, but it’s hard to disregard the evidence of timeher right eye is now a full inch lower than the left, and something appears to have been injected into her lips (god knows what) and smooshed them shapeless. But her hair is really, really shiny.
All of the stock zaniness of rich people stripped of their comforts in the big cityHenry lands in jail, takes a hallucinogen, shorts out the hotel’s neon sign climbing down the side of the buildingis mostly tempered by the actors’ engaging comic rapport. They render middling lines funny and funny ones brilliant, and have a lovely comic ease with each other that helps the blah script reunite the characters. The Out-of-Towners should never have been made, but now that it has, it resides in that peculiar niche of films that exist so that people can take their parents to see themif their parents aren’t too discriminating.CP