To call this latest pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau The Grumpy Old Men and the Sea isn't too far off the mark. This genial if uninspired comedy casts the duo as antagonistic friends and brothers-in-law. Lemmon is a widower and retired department store clerk, while Matthau is an unrepentant gambler always just one step away from his bookie.
Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs quickly contrives a way to get them on board a luxury liner: Matthau, looking to snare a wealthy wife, cons Lemmon into signing on together as dance hosts (partners for single, mostly older, women).
The catch is that one dances, the other doesn't. So as the flustered Lemmon dutifully does the rumba and the cha-cha, Matthau makes a beeline for poker-playing Dyan Cannon.
Would it be too far-fetched to predict that the sneakily charming Matthau would make some headway, or that a sweetly lonely Lemmon might find a second-chance romance with Gloria De Haven? Jacobs follows the dictate that all those episodes of "The Love Boat" can't be wrong and sets the course for a happy ending.
Supporting players Elaine Stritch and Rue McClanahan exist mostly for sharp-tongued comic relief, while Hal Linden and Donald O'Connor (Singin' in the Rain), as fellow dance hosts, provide reaction shots. In star-driven fluff like Out to Sea, these talented performers are reduced to being little more than nostalgia-inducing wallpaper.
The real comic focus here is a fatuous cruise director (Brent Spiner) who quickly identifies Lemmon and Matthau as troublemakers and hisses the warning: "I'm your worst nightmare, a song-and-dance man raised on a military base." Spiner (best-known as Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation") hilariously nails not only his character, but the appeal of these kinds of cruises to safe, well-appointed, tourist-friendly ports of call in Mexico, when he sings Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" in a precise, clipped, pseudo-British accent.
Director Martha Coolidge handles the material with a light and deft touch, successfully steering Out to Sea away from any choppy waters.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].