A proudly sentimental story with plenty of unforced humor, “Diamonds” is tailor made for Kirk Douglas as a retired prize fighter who enlists the help of his estranged son and adored grandson in tracking down the title gems. Old-fashioned but not fuddy-duddyish pic, which reunites Douglas with Lauren Bacall for the first time since 1950’s “Young Man With a Horn,” incorporates three generations without pandering, makes a few points about the needs and contributions of senior citizens and offers steady, if mild, suspense that pays off in the end. Although subject matter would seem like the natural province of TV, pic is lensed to bigscreen standards and, properly publicized, could bring out the matinee crowd; mature viewers should get a kick out of it. Miramax will release the film Stateside in mid-April.
Onetime welterweight champion of the world Harry “The Polish Prince” Agensky (Douglas), lives on a lake in rural Canada with his son Moses (Kurt Fuller) and daughter-in-law. Harry’s other son, Lance (Dan Aykroyd), is a newspaper columnist in northern California. Lance never got support or approval from his old man and he’s blowing his relationship with his 15 year-old son, Michael (Corbin Allred), who lives with Lance’s ex-wife. In a red convertible with the top permanently down, Lance and Michael drive through snowy vistas to pick up Harry for a family-bonding trip to Banff.
Harry — whose greatest fear is ending up in a retirement home and whose biggest dream is to live on a gorgeous but pricey ranch in the region — had a stroke following the death of his beloved wife of 45 years. He has been dutifully performing the grimaces and tongue twisters in a speech re-education video; these “oral aerobics” come in handy later on.
His sons assume it’s nonsense, but Harry contends that decades earlier, a mobster named Duff the Muff paid him with 13 stolen diamonds for throwing a fight. Because Harry’s straight-arrow wife refused to let him keep the booty, he and Muff buried the diamonds in the wall of Muff’s house in Reno. Determined to recoup the gems even though he’s unable to recall the mobster’s address, Harry convinces Mikey and Lance to scrap their original plans and drive to Reno instead.
Although his Polish accent comes and goes, Douglas, in his first screen outing since the stroke that initially left him unable to speak, brims with dignity and feisty humor as he drives the convertible, pushes his luck at the Canadian-U.S. border, throws a few punches and expresses his virile exuberance as well as his vulnerability. “I hear college girls are really into old men with slurred speech,” Harry cracks when initiating a visit to a brothel where Lance and he can get some action and Michael can lose his virginity.
Dialogue during scene in which Douglas and the brothel’s madam, Sin-Dee (Bacall), discuss the dreams of youth and fears of old age comes dangerously close to purple prose, but vet thesps pull it off with aplomb. Allan Aaron Katz’s script is packed with gentle gags and is never maudlin. Message of reconciliation across the generations and self-reliance in the face of adversity is presented with a gentle tap rather than a sledgehammer.
Incorporated into flashbacks to excellent effect, Harry’s memories take the form of fight footage of Douglas in the ring from 1949’s “Champion” (the Mark Robson pic that resulted in Douglas’ first Oscar nomination for best actor). Lighting is flattering to all concerned. John Landis cameos as a gambler and Jenny McCarthy provides Michael’s first roll in the hay.