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‘Just Getting Started’ gets old fast

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Recent years have seen a proliferation of cinematic subgenres that consist of “old person does X.” Sometimes it works – old guy action movies have become a personal favorite. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t – see the spate of old person comedies awash in hijinks and/or shenanigans. Those are occasionally OK, but for the most part, they tend to be dull, derivative or both, failing to do anything beyond lean on their thin premises and jab you in the ribs while suggestively waggling their eyebrows. 

“Just Getting Started” is one such offering. Ostensibly a comedy, it’s largely devoid of laughs … or story … or really anything that makes a movie worth seeing. Nobody involved with this movie – the actors, the writer/director, any of them – seems all that concerned with quality, content to churn out another bland elder offering for audiences looking for the cinematic equivalent of plain oatmeal.

Duke Diver (Morgan Freeman, “Going in Style”) is the resident manager of a tony California retirement community. He’s a glad-handing charmer who does as he pleases and has the attention and affection of everyone around him. He’s also apparently a man with a shady past; the movie literally begins with gilded New Jersey mob wife Delilah (Jane Seymour, “Sandy Wexler”) seeing Duke on a TV commercial and calling someone to put a hit out on him.

Duke’s idyllic life – ladies who love him and cronies who worship him – is turned upside down by a pair of unexpected arrivals. There’s new resident Leo (Tommy Lee Jones, “Shock and Awe”), whose slow talking drawl belies a sharp wit and wide array of talents – Duke instantly views him as a rival for his BMOC status. Also new on the scene is Suzie (Rene Russo, “The Intern”), a woman who becomes the target of competitive affection between Duke and Leo – and who also happens to be an inspector on behalf of the retirement community’s corporate ownership.

And so – surprise! – hijinks and shenanigans.

Duke and Leo’s rivalry escalates, but their efforts to woo Suzie are complicated by the repeated and outlandish attempts on Duke’s life, leading to an uneasy alliance between the two men that slowly and utterly predictably blossoms into a rough-and-ready friendship. The old man bromance is in full effect.

It all plays out precisely as you expect.

“Just Getting Started” is choppily edited and oddly structured. The competitive wooing scenes are both thin and overlong. We get not one, but two extended and utterly pedestrian car chases. There are a couple of subplots that pop up for mere moments before disappearing forever. None of it really makes much sense.

It wasn’t that long ago that Ron Shelton was one of the more notable writer/directors in Hollywood – one could still argue that his body of work marks him as the best maker of sports movies ever – but this film marks his first big-screen project in almost 15 years; 2003’s “Hollywood Homicide” was the last one. And it shows. There’s almost nothing noteworthy about this film – it’s boring, it has little in the way of narrative engagement, the performances are lackluster and the only laughs it elicits are incredulous head-shaking can-you-believe-this chuckles.

In short, Shelton should have stayed away.

As far as the performances, well … what can you say? There aren’t a lot of options out there for actors of a certain age, so one imagines that they’ll take whatever gigs they can get. Mugging is never a good look for Morgan Freeman, but it doesn’t stop him from trying; it’s weird to get a flop-sweaty vibe from him. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones seems to have completely lost the ability to emote – he deadpans and mutters his way through the performance; his subtext seems to be little more than thinking about what boat he’s going to buy with his check. Russo, God bless her, is legitimately trying, but she’s given nothing but threadbare and dated screwball comedy nonsense to work with. She deserves better.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare any better. Seymour shrills her way through her solo scenes; she’s never on screen with anyone else and may not have even met anyone else in the movie. Some familiar faces turn up in the ensemble – Joe Pantoliano, Glenne Headley, Sheryl Lee Ralph, George Wallace and more – illustrating once again just how hard it is out there for older actors looking for work.

“Just Getting Started” never actually gets started, sputtering along until it finally loses steam and creaks to a predictable conclusion. It isn’t funny, it isn’t engaging and – unfortunately – it just isn’t any good.

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