This very mainstream comedy might just as well have been called “Grumpy Old Presidents,” as it follows the misadventures of two aging former chief executives who loathe each other but are forced, through contrived circumstances, to spend a great deal of time together. Broadly comic and with an extreme reliance on unexpected vulgarities spewing from the mouths of the crotchety oldsters, the Warner Bros. release can expect agreeably “Grumpy” biz from older-skewed audiences.
Penny-pinching Republican Russell P. Kramer (Jack Lemmon) has been turned out of the oval office by womanizing Democrat Matt Douglas (James Garner), who in turn has been defeated by current President William Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Brought together upon Air Force One to travel to a state funeral, Kramer and Douglas renew their decades-long antagonism, and are soon after thrown together for a much longer period when both are targeted by government goons after Haney has attempted to lay the blame for a current kickback scandal at Kramer’s feet.
When a chopper in which they have been traveling blows up just after they escape from it, the odd couple hits the road, encountering unbelieving citizens along the way as Kramer attempts to make his way back to his presidential library in Ohio in order to locate the evidence he needs to refute the trumped-up charges.
When not repeating variations on the look of dumbfounded stupefaction when average Joes and Janes recognize the two ex-leaders, pic rolls out whatever sexual crudities will pass PG-13 muster, words that, Richard Nixon notwithstanding, sound embarrassed and incongruous coming from the mouths of two such distinguished citizens. Some of this is actually delivered in the bathroom, while the rest merely belongs there.
Script by sitcom writers E. Jack Kaplan, Richard Chapman and Peter Tolan is hokey through and through, while direction by Peter Segal (“Tommy Boy”) will win awards only for obviousness.
Nonetheless, the shameless laughs flow off the prefab assembly line with sufficient regularity to please audiences with a taste for comfortable tradition spiced with a bit of contempo naughtiness. Barbs are tossed at both sides with nonpartisan dispatch, and few will miss the deliberate ways in which Kramer’s small-mindedness is meant to parallel that of George Bush, John Heard’s malapropping, duncelike vice president resembles Dan Quayle, and Douglas’ robust, female-snatching ways call to mind you-know-who.
The ever-reliable Lemmon and Garner prove as audience-friendly as old easy chairs, although Lemmon seems perhaps almost too realistically out of sorts, while Garner has the better of most exchanges. Members of the large supporting cast, including such stalwarts as Lauren Bacall as Kramer’s standby wife and Wilford Brimley as the rock-solid Democratic party chairman, are given precious little to work with in a film that could have benefited from some more colorful secondary characters.
Pic has a standard bright look.