On the Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau scale, Grumpy Old Men comes closer to the languor of Buddy Buddy than the inspired lunacy of The Odd Couple or The Fortune Cookie, saddling the two old pros with so-so material. Still, under Donald Petrie’s direction, the pic emerges as light, reasonably pleasant and undoubtedly sappy holiday entertainment.
Looking craggy and dour, Lemmon and Matthau play aging Minnesota neighbors whose decades-old feud is rekindled when they become enamored with a fetching widow, the aptly named Ariel (Ann-Margret), who moves in across the street.
There are subplots, though not so you’d notice. Lemmon’s daughter (Daryl Hannah) is estranged from her husband, and Matthau’s son (Kevin Pollak) harbors a long-standing crush on her. Lemmon also faces the threat of losing his house because of an irksome IRS agent (Buck Henry) and receives romantic advice from his randy 94-year-old father (Burgess Meredith, a hoot in the film’s showiest role).
Petrie, who directed Mystic Pizza, oscillates a bit awkwardly between humorous and bittersweet moments during the first two acts, and the film provides few big laughs before rushing to its warm, fuzzy and overly tidy conclusion.
The film doesn’t truly shine, in fact, until a fabulous, worth-the-price-of-admission outtake sequence over the closing credits.