Rated: PG-13 - Running Time: 1:35 - Released 4/10/98

There is no doubt that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are a great comedy team. The Odd Couple (1968) is one of the funniest movies of all time, and their recent work in such films as Grumpy Old Men (1993), Grumpier Old Men (1995), and Out To Sea (1997) has proven that the two friends continue to work well together. But what makes this one special is that Neil Simon, the writer of the original Couple, has returned to craft his clever conversations for the 30-year reunion of the two worst friends of all time.

Although slobby Oscar Madison (Matthau) had never expected to see his compulsive neatnick ex-roommate Felix Ungar (Lemmon) again, he gets a call from his son Bruce (Single Guy Jonathan Silverman) and finds that the unimaginable has happened: Bruce has fallen in love with Felix's daughter Hannah (Lisa Waltz) and they're planning to get married this weekend. Not only does Oscar have to drop everything and leave his poker game in Sarasota to travel to California, but he has to see the man who almost drove him insane 30 years ago. And he must drive with Felix from the airport to the wedding, a several-hour trip. Plenty of time to catch up.

From the moment they leave Felix's suitcase at the airport (with the directions in it), their trip together doesn't go well at all. As they travel aimlessly through southern California, trying to remember the name of the small town where the wedding is, they bicker and irritate each other as much if not more than before, yet both realize that they need each other if they're going to get out of this fix.

One could hardly expect this to be much different from the Grumpy movies, especially since their children got married in that story too. I mean, it's two cantankerous old guys who don't get along. But these two work so well together, who cares? It's funny just to watch them look at each other, and with Simon to give them the words, there are many laugh-out-loud moments. Director Howard Deutch wisely left them to their own devices; trying to direct these guys would be gilding the lily.

Unfortunately, most of the scenes which involve other people are tiresome and ill-advised. With the exception of Christine Baranski (Cybill), who proves that at 46 she's still got the sex appeal of a college co-ed, the supporting cast serves as little else than crutches for a lame storyline. The plot is terribly convoluted; in the original movie they were full-time roommates, but here they're just stuck in the same bad weekend together, so there's no real need for conflict. We see a series of unlikely situations designed to get Felix and Oscar in trouble as many times as possible. The twist at the end is tacked on to ensure the possibility of another sequel, an unfortunate move.

But dialogue is Simon's specialty, and when the two are alone together, though their situations may seem ludicrous, their banter is usually hysterical. The entire final scene, with Oscar back home with his poker buddies, is lifted almost verbatim from the '68 movie. Also reminiscent is the music by Alan Sylvestri, which includes liberal use of the famous theme penned 30 years ago by Neal Hefti.

Lemmon and Matthau could make us laugh just as loudly if they had performed this whole movie sitting in two chairs on an empty set. Come to think of it, maybe they should have. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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