Reviewed by: Bill Williams
Starring: Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Dyan Cannon, Gloria DeHaven, Elaine Stritch, Edward Hulhare, Brent Spiner / Director: Martha Coolidge / Released by: 20th Century Fox
“Out to Sea” marks the latest film teaming of screen legends Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, as they continue their comic antics onto the high seas in search of love and money. Think of it as “Grumpy Old Men on the Love Boat.”
Matthau is Charlie, an aging hustler who, looking for a quick way to get money to repay his bookie, hijacks his brother-in-law Herb (Lemmon) onto a cruise liner and further subjects him to an even bigger story: they must serve as dance hosts to the ship’s passengers. This scenario begets one crazy antic and lie after another, as Charlie continues his con-man hustle with a rich woman (Dyan Cannon) to steal her away from her escort (the late Edward Mulhare in his final screen role) and get her money. Herb, in the meantime, is content at staying true to the memory of his deceased wife but finds himself falling for a publications editor (Gloria DeHaven, in her first film performance in over 40 years). She views Herb as a wealthy physician, only furthering the endless stream of lies.
This is where I have a lot of problems with the story. From the very first scene to the end, director Martha Coolidge and first-time screenwriter Robert Jacobs are content at perpetuating the notion that lying will get you everywhere and everything that you want out of life—money, relationships, and adventure. This is in total opposition to the Commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Charlie obviously doesn’t believe in it, because he tells lies to everyone he meets, from Herb to Liz to her mother to the foppish cruise director Gil Godwin (Brent Spiner).
Furthermore, Charlie obviously conveys a very amoral and sexist attitude towards women throughout the story, constantly referring to them as “broads”—a common attitude that carnal men are raised with in believing that women are only good for two things, sex and money. The Ten Commandments also state, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, nor thy neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor's.” Charlie runs with that sexist attitude from the very beginning, confiding to Herb that his purpose is, and I quote, “to go on this cruise and sip champagne with some lonely rich broads.”
And moreso, Charlie obviously doesn’t believe in God, because at the very beginning he repeatedly chants “Hare Krishna” at least 20 times non-stop. Again, I cite the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” His character has no redeeming qualities.
Herb, on the other hand, remains faithful to his wife’s memory and wrestles with his conscience to stay true to his wedding vows, “til death do us part.” Lemmon’s characters have always been likable people with genuine hearts of gold, from Felix Unger in “The Odd Couple” to John Gustafson in “Grumpy Old Men” to Herb. He never went on this cruise with any other intention but to be there for his brother-in-law, never had any desire to look for love, but love found him instead. He remains respectful in the face of arrogance, he confides in how he still loves his wife and wants to stay faithful regardless of his new feelings. Herb is the gentler of the two.
But that doesn’t stop Lemmon and Matthau from relying on the comic interplay that have made them a cinema staple for over 30 years. Whether it’s Herb teaching Charlie how to dance, or Herb giving Charlie a painfully funny chiropractic lesson, or their continual putdowns and playful insults to each other, Lemmon and Matthau can be a delight to watch all over again.
The rest of the cast has their ups and downs as well. The elegant Gloria DeHaven is simply stunning and yet comic as Lemmon’s romantic interest—like Herb, she goes on the cruise not looking for love but finds it looking for her. Hal Linden (“Barney Miller”) continues his respectful and quietly dashing demeanor as the dance host for the party. Rue McClanahan (“The Golden Girls”) vamps it up as the owner and president of the cruise line. Screen legend and dancer extraordinare Donald O'Connor nearly steals the show in two very memorable dance scenes, as he gives a most impressive line dance lesson during the Hustle that makes you remember what made him famous in the first place. And Elaine Strictch as Liz’s mother is right out of a page from “The Golden Girls”.
Aside from Lemmon and Matthau, the other member of the cast with a lot of incredible comic talent is Brent Spiner. This theatrically-trained song and dance man, best known as Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, does comedy and music so well that at times he makes you forget what brought him to the screen in the first place. He doesn’t have to rely on stereotypical Data-like roles to get him noticed. He conveys a cross between Stan Laurel and a comedic Louis Jourdan as the foppish, military-raised brat Gil Godwin, who is, in his own words, “your worst nightmare.”
But Dyan Cannon as Liz is horribly miscast. She deliberately sexes it up, in one scene greeting Charlie in a barely-there two piece swimsuit—totally inappropriate behavior from a 58-year-old woman obviously bent on acting like a 20-year-old. She can’t handle a Texas accent very well, either.
What I found particularly offensive, even as a fan of Lemmon and Matthau, is the almost continual usage of sexual references, innuendos, and foreplay among the characters, not to mention an endless stream of profanities coming from one cast member after another. I counted at least 57 various profanities, including nine misuses of God’s name. If this is all Lemmon and Matthau have left to rely on in their careers—an almost continual stream of sexual jokes and profanities—then it’s time that they cleaned up their act.
This is one film I would not take children to see, or even teenagers. Older people might enjoy seeing Lemmon and Matthau again, as well as the numerous dance scenes from an era gone by. If you like sexual jokes, a stream of profanities, a lot of carnal carousing, and a stream of lies to get you where you want to go in life, then you might enjoy this film. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend it to a Christian audience at all.
This film is rated PG-13 for profanity, sexual innuendos, overtones, and interplay. My alternative: Go rent either “The Fortune Cookie” or “The Odd Couple,” classic comedies from earlier in Lemmon and Matthau’s careers that show them at their comic best without relying on crude behavior and language to get laughs. These are films that both younger and older audiences would more certainly enjoy.
Year of Release—1997