×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Sunshine Boys

A Princess Diana joke isn't the only tip-off that this TV movie version of "The Sunshine Boys" has spent a lot of time on the shelf. This latest telling of Neil Simon's familiar tale of two grumpy old comics is heavy on the grump, short on the comic, and the oddball pairing of Peter Falk and Woody Allen is a joke that goes nowhere.

With:
Cast: Woody Allen, Peter Falk, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael McKean, Liev Schreiber, Eddie Falco, Tyler Noyes, Olga Merediz, Andy Taylor, Jose Soto, Kirk Acevedo.

A Princess Diana joke isn’t the only tip-off that this TV movie version of “The Sunshine Boys” has spent a lot of time on the shelf. This latest telling of Neil Simon’s familiar tale of two grumpy old comics is heavy on the grump, short on the comic, and the oddball pairing of Peter Falk and Woody Allen is a joke that goes nowhere.

Filmed in New York by Hallmark Entertainment. Executive producer, Robert Halmi Sr.; producer-director, John Erman; co-producer, Gerrit Van Der Meer; writer, Neil Simon, based on his play; Far inferior to the current Broadway revival (with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall) and the 1975 feature film (Walter Matthau and George Burns), director John Erman’s flat, sluggish telepic, which Simon adapted from his play, takes a scattershot approach to updating the material, trimming away most, if not all, of the nostalgic charm of the original 1972 play.

Simon’s pair of estranged ex-vaudevillians have been changed to estranged ex-comics of 1950s/early ’60s vintage (think Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis). Not a bad idea, except that no one seems to have noticed that the characters’ vaudeville patter might need some updating as well. And while the marquee value ofAllen and Falk should be a coup, the two actors are woefully mismatched. Falk, with his old-age makeup and overcooked Yiddish delivery, seems at least a generation older than Allen. In fact, Falk comes across like the ex-vaudevillian that the new script insists he isn’t, while Allen does a terrific, if slightly exaggerated, imitation of Woody Allen, circa now.

Falk plays Willie Clark, the bitter half of the once-famous comic team known as the Sunshine Boys. Forced into semi-retirement and total obscurity eight years earlier when Al Lewis (Allen) broke up the act, Willie now lives in a disheveled Manhattan apartment (real New Yorkers will envy a spacious, light-filled place that does little to suggest the character’s modest means) and goes on the odd audition for commercials.

Al, meanwhile, lives in New Jersey with his daughter’s family. Since Allen makes no attempt to play old, the daughter’s doting seems rather odd — in a Woody Allen movie, the same actress would play his mistress.

Willie’s talent-agent niece (a nephew in the original, now played by Sarah Jessica Parker) makes the curmudgeon an offer: Warner Bros. wants the comic duo to re-team for a cameo in a big Christmas movie that’s “funnier than ‘Home Alone.’ ” Salaries of $ 75,000 each convince the two bickering funnymen to accept.

What’s always worked about the play is Simon’s unusual avoidance of sentiment overload: “The Sunshine Boys” isn’t about two men who, deep down, truly love each other — it’s about two comics who don’t even like each other but find themselves connected for life by that inexplicable spark called stage chemistry.

So what happens when there’s no chemistry? Well, there’s no humor, for starters. Nor pathos, nor momentum. Director Erman, whose credits are heavy on heart-tugging melodrama (“Who Will Love My Children?,” “Breathing Lessons,” the recent “Ellen Foster”), can’t stir up much rapport between his two leads and, perhaps worse, lets joke after joke slip away into a vacuum of dead air.

Parker doesn’t lend much depth to the niece, and Whoopi Goldberg, walking through an uncredited final-reel cameo as Willie’s nurse, makes little impression beyond her use of the word “dissing,” which must have seemed very hip when “Sunshine Boys” was filmed a couple of years ago.

Tech credits are of the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” sort, which is to say top-notch, if more than a little austere. Continuity, however, could be better: In the first reunion scene, Allen’s gloves come and go with more mystery than O.J. Simpson’s.

The Sunshine Boys

CBS, Sun. Dec. 28, 9 P.M.

Production: Filmed in New York by Hallmark Entertainment. Executive producer, Robert Halmi Sr.; producer-director, John Erman; co-producer, Gerrit Van Der Meer; writer, Neil Simon, based on his play.

Crew: Camera, Tony Imi; editor, Jack Wheeler; production design, Ben Edwards; sound, Dennis Maitland; music, Irwin L. Fisch; casting, Lynn Kressel. 2 HOURS.

Cast: Cast: Woody Allen, Peter Falk, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael McKean, Liev Schreiber, Eddie Falco, Tyler Noyes, Olga Merediz, Andy Taylor, Jose Soto, Kirk Acevedo.

More TV

  • CHAMBERS

    'Chambers' Canceled After One Season at Netflix

    Netflix has canceled the drama series “Chambers” after one season. The series followed a teenager who gets a heart transplant and becomes consumed with the mystery surrounding her donor. The series starred Uma Thurman, Tony Goldwyn, Sivan Alyra Rose, Lilliya Reid, Nicholas Galitzine, Kyanna Simone Simpson, Lilli Kay, Sarah Mezzanotte, and Griffin Powell-Arcand. Leah Rachel [...]

  • The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

    TV News Roundup: 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah' to Air Live After Democratic Debates

    In today’s roundup, Trevor Noah announces two live specials after the first Democratic debates and the new season of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” sets a premiere date. SPECIALS “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” will broadcast live following the Democratic Party’s first 2020 presidential primary debates on June 26 and 27 at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. [...]

  • Agents Accuse Writers Guild of Refusing

    Writers Guild 'Plans to Respond' to Agents' Proposal as Frustration Mounts

    In a sign of increasing frustration, Hollywood agents have accused the Writers Guild of America of foot-dragging in the bitter two-month dispute. “It has become clear as more days pass that the Guild is not interested in making a deal,” said the negotiating committee for the agents in statement issued Tuesday. “Over the past year, [...]

  • Samantha Bee Variety

    Samantha Bee Isn't Thrilled to Be the Last Woman Standing in Late Night

    Samantha Bee is now the only female host in late night, and that’s a stat she’s not happy about. “It’s a bit unsettling,” Bee recently told Variety. “It’s been a bad year to be a woman in this space. It’s not really a badge that I want to wear.” Shows that have been canceled over [...]

  • XXXTentacion

    Watch a Trailer for New XXXTentacion Documentary

    A year to the day after rapper XXXTentacion was murdered, his estate has released a trailer for an upcoming documentary on the artist, which the announcement says is “releasing soon.” The clip, which includes narration from X himself, captures quick flashes of him reuniting with family and friends, engaging with fans, and working on music. In the [...]

  • The-Saddest-Goal

    Fascism and Fútbol Feature in Chilean Series Project ‘The Saddest Goal’

    PAMPLONA, Spain – Chilean production company Manufactura de Películas pitched its unconventional Pinochet-era drama “The Saddest Goal” today at Spain’s Conecta Fiction TV co-production and networking TV event, held in Pamplona. Set during qualification for the 1974 FIFA World Cup, a period of great political instability in Chile, “The Saddest Goal” kicks off as the [...]

  • Spain’s La Claqueta, Portugal’s SPi Ink

    Conecta Fiction: La Claqueta and SPi Ink Fiction Co-Production Pact

    Spain’s Seville-based shingle La Claqueta and Portugal’s SPi have clinched a co-development agreement for three fiction projects a year. Companies first made contact at last year’s Conecta Fiction, the annual co-production meet in Spain. The companies have also pacted to co-produce the animated feature-length docu “El viaje más largo” in collaboration with Portuguese pubcaster RTP [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content