Just Getting Started

Just-Getting-Started-rev Just Getting Started  (2017)    Broad Green/Action-Comedy    RT: 91 minutes    Rated PG-13 (language, suggestive material, brief violence)    Director: Ron Shelton    Screenplay: Ron Shelton    Music: Alex Wurman    Cinematography: Barry Peterson    Release date: December 8, 2017 (US)    Cast: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo, Joe Pantoliano, Glenne Headly, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley, George Wallace, Graham Beckel, Jane Seymour, Nick Peine, Mel Raido, Johnny Mathis.

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 About ten minutes after Just Getting Started just got started, I wanted it to just be over. It’s another one of those abysmal comedies that seem to come out in early December in hopes of attracting audiences solely on the basis of good cheer. Good cheer, in no way, shape or form, describes what I felt while watching Just Getting Started. Quite the opposite, I felt sad. I didn’t laugh, chuckle or even crack a smile. This movie, kind of a cross between Grumpy Old Men and My Blue Heaven, isn’t the least bit funny. What’s worse, it squanders the talents of a gifted cast, one led by two Oscar winners no less. It’s the biggest waste of Christmastime theater space since Joe Somebody*.

 Just-Getting-Started-2017Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption) plays Duke Diver, the manager of Villa Capri, a luxury resort in Florida for senior citizens. He’s tops at golf, poker and woman chasing. He has a small posse of fellow oldsters who think he’s the greatest. He’s a regular BMOC. That is, until new resident Leo (Jones, The Fugitive) shows up intent on knocking Duke off his roost. Thus begins a game of one-upmanship that grows fiercer when they start competing for the affections of the same woman Suzie (Russo, Lethal Weapon 3).

 What I haven’t told you about Duke is that he’s the target of a mob hit placed on him by a woman (Seymour, Wedding Crashers) who spots him in an ad for Villa Capri. He used to run with some big name players in the organized crime game until he turned state’s evidence and named names. In return for his help, the feds placed him in witness protection. Now somebody wants to kill him but who? It seems like it could be Suzie; she’s clearly hiding something. Nope! It turns out she’s a corporate hatchet-person sent to fire Duke. That doesn’t stop him from turning on the charm full-steam-ahead. Could it be Leo? He doesn’t say much about himself or his background. It’s not him either. He has other reasons for being at Villa Capri; tormenting Duke is just a bonus. Before you call me out for plot-spoiling, let me tell you that when we finally do find out who’s behind the attempts on Duke’s life, it’s rather arbitrary. It’s almost like an afterthought.

 Oh, so many things wrong with Just Getting Started! It’s hard to believe it was made by an experienced director. That would be Ron Shelton whose credits include Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump and Tin Cup. To be honest, I’m not that big a fan of his work but a lot people like the movies I mentioned. He hasn’t made a movie since the 2003 cop comedy misfire Hollywood Homicide (which, to be fair, isn’t all that bad a movie). Is this really the best he could come up after more than a decade of downtime? It looks and feels like the work of an amateur rather than an auteur the way Shelton botches Just Getting Started at every turn.

 To start with, the plot is a mess. You have the rivalry between two alpha-male seniors. You have the witness-in-hiding being targeted by former criminal associates; in this case, the wife of somebody he helped put away. The whole “who’s the hitman” thing feels shoehorned in. And for some reason, it takes place at Christmas. NONE of it works. The jokes fall harder than an anvil off a tall building. At times, the characters stand around waiting for somebody to do something funny. When somebody does try, they fail. The comic timing is way off. The so-called action scenes are a bore. This includes a couple of feeble attempts on Duke’s life. A rattlesnake in his golf bag? Really? A car bomb in his golf cart? Oh, please! And the whole climax with Duke and Leo teaming up to rescue Suzie who’s been taken hostage by the hitman, it’s as exciting as chopped lettuce. At least it can’t be said that Shelton doesn’t find a consistent tone. It’s boring all the way through.

 Morgan Freeman gives his worst performance ever playing the most unlikable character he’s ever played. Duke is cocky, dishonest and obnoxious. The scene where he drunkenly hits on Suzie while dressed as Santa (don’t ask) is the most cringe-worthy bit in the movie. He’s supposed to be charming and charismatic but comes off as annoying and odious instead. Even when he plays bad guys (e.g. Hard Rain, Chain Reaction), Freeman has a natural likability about him. There’s no evidence of it in Just Getting Started. Jones may as well have phoned it in for all the life he puts into his performance. He doesn’t even care; he knows the movie is garbage. He’s just there to take the money and run. I didn’t really understand Russo’s character and neither does the movie. Sometimes she’s a hard ass corporate bitch; other times, she’s an incompetent moron on the verge of losing her job. At least, her little dog is cute. Unfortunately, the little critter is the target of an unfunny gag involving a coyote. Don’t worry, the dog lives. The saddest thing about the cast is that this is Glenne Headly’s last movie (she died in June). Talk about going out on a low note. I’ll keep remembering her for Dick Tracy and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, thank you.

 The nicest thing I can say about Just Getting Started is that it’s not crude and gross like most recent so-called comedies. There isn’t a single joke about Viagra, an amazing feat for a movie about old people. It does have gags about old people having sex though (it has to earn its PG-13 rating somehow). But like I said, Just Getting Started just isn’t funny. An unfunny comedy is about the most unwatchable kinds of movies. It’s badly written. Some of it makes no sense. For example, those in Witness Protection are required to keep a low profile. Wouldn’t the feds step in and not allow Duke to appear in the promo for Villa Capri? And why is it being seen in New Jersey? Also, where are the feds? With all that’s going on, you’d think they’d show up at some point. Doesn’t Duke have a handler? Shelton doesn’t appear to understand how WP works. But why am I even asking these questions? It’s not like anybody will go to see Just Getting Started anyway. The studio doesn’t think much of it either; they didn’t even bother to screen it in advance. I can see why. You can cross this one off your list without checking it twice.

*= I have a funny story about this movie, a 2001 comedy starring Tim Allen as an office worker standing up to the bully that humiliated him in front of his young daughter. I went to see it a special Sunday afternoon sneak preview at a local theater. When I went to buy my ticket, the girl at the box office wasn’t even aware they were showing it that day. Neither was anybody else apparently since I was the only one in attendance. Absolutely NOBODY showed up. Not many more showed up to see it after it opened either, it bombed at the box office. 

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