The Out-of-Towners (review)

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A Mathematical Improbability

We’ve all heard of a thing that is greater than the sum of its parts. But can a thing be less than the sum of its parts? That’s how I feel about The Out-of-Towners, which should be less forgettable than it is. It has King Tut and Basil Fawlty and a Kid in the Hall, fer pete’s sake, and yet two days later I can barely recall it.

  • TAKE one (1) Steve Martin (from The Prince of Egypt) and put him in the role of Henry Clark, an out-of-work ad man from Ohio. Martin is unique in his ability to take a line like “I’m in advertising — I’m weak and I follow the crowd” and make it funny, sad, and real all at once. He’s both a brilliant physical comedian who can riff on Harold Lloyd and Groucho Marx — as he does here — and a fabulous straight actor who can make us totally sympathize with Henry’s admittedly limited goals for retirement: “I wanna catch up on my reading and maybe fix those kitchen cabinets that are broken.”
  • ADD one (1) Goldie Hawn as Henry’s wife, Nancy, whose bubbly effervescence and underlying steel can make you forget the contradictions in a character who simultaneously has no clue what to do with herself now that her kids have flown the coop, yet is adventurous enough to want to “suck the marrow out of life.”
  • STIR IN a trip to New York City for Henry’s big interview with an ad agency. ADD liberal doses of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and a splash of Crocodile Dundee.
  • MULTIPLY by John Cleese (from Fierce Creatures), who proves that it is possible to steal a scene from Steve Martin with his rendition of Mr. Mersault, a hotel concierge with major attitude. Imagine Basil Fawlty gone high class and able to actually carry out his fantasized dictum of “no riff-raff.” ADD Monty Python-style cross-dressing and silly walks.
  • DIVIDE by Mark McKinney, ex-Kid in the Hall (“I’m crushing your head!” and the Chicken Lady), as a West Coast talent agent who isn’t as suave or cool as he thinks he is. In delightfully un-Hollywood style, he lets Nancy, a good few years older than him, pick him up in a hotel bar with the implication that they’re, you know, gonna do that. And he’s lots younger than her!
  • ADD: terror in the East Village, a cab ride from hell, a night in the slammer, blackmail, petty theft, inadvertent drug use, idiosyncratic New Yorkers, and a bit with a dog.
  • YOU SHOULD GET: a pretty funny movie. Disclaimer: I did get a few chuckles out of The Out-of-Towners.

And yet, on the subway ride afterward, I found myself wondering what I had done that evening that was getting me home so late. Oh yeah, it struck me a moment later, I had been to the movies. For ten bucks, though, I feel a movie should stick with you longer than the popcorn shells stuck in your teeth.

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