[box cover]

The Out-of-Towners

There was a time when Neil Simon was considered the pinnacle of comedy writing, but that time has thankfully passed. At his best, he was capable of processed wit that occasionally rose above its prefab nature thanks to energetic performances or the story's proximity to the writer's own life. The Out-of-Towners (1970) is not one of those blessed occasions. In fact, it might just be the most excruciatingly unfunny madcap comedy ever made; mistaking extreme aggravation for supposedly uproarious entertainment, while the writer's patented set-up/punch-line rhythm drives it all forward with such thudding monotonousness, one is tempted to switch it off Elvis-style. For those without gun permits, the best course of action is to opt for the agreeably stale conflict of The Odd Couple or the sweet-natured romance of The Goodbye Girl than to subject oneself to this shrieking, imbecilic collection of tired travel-humor that couldn't have seemed terribly fresh a few decades ago. Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis play a pair of clueless Ohioans on a jaunt to New York City where Lemmon is to interview for a hotly coveted big-city job with his company. Of course, things start going wrong from the get-go when their flight goes into a holding pattern over JFK and is eventually diverted to Boston due to unforeseen bad weather. The gags here are of the most pedestrian semantic variety — e.g. Lemmon quarrels with a flight attendant over the difference between "landing" and "circling" — which largely grow out of the main characters' lack of sophistication, or unwillingness to listen to reason. When Lemmon argues over leaving a quarter tip for the cabbie while a train they must catch is dangerously close to leaving the station, it's impossible to feel anything but contempt for the cheap, stupid bastard. The whole movie is laden with perfectly avoidable complications like this, which continually violates the writer's rule of not looking down at one's characters (not that it applies across the board, but it helps if one can actually be funny while flouting convention). Eventually, they end up embroiled in an anti-Cuba demonstration, which sets up the film's hysterical closing gag involving a hijacking that is, sadly, the most dated of all. This "travel hell" formula would be reconfigured to far funnier effect with John Hughes's Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where the filmmaker knew well enough to tether his boor to a generally smart and sympathetic protagonist. In Simon's script, however, it's all high-decibel whimpering and complaining that can't even be rescued by one of the screen's greatest comedic actors. Adding to the pain is Arthur Hiller's strained direction, which is undone by poorly conceived tracking shots and other awkward camera moves that offer up the unsightly spectacle of a filmmaker hitting the ceiling of his own mediocrity. The only enjoyment to be derived from this earsplitting dud is in spotting the numerous familiar faces that fill out the film's bit parts, including Paul Dooley as a hotel clerk, Billy Dee Williams as an airline representative, and the immortal Dolph Sweet as, what else, a police officer. Paramount presents The Out-of-Towners in a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with monaural DD audio. No extras, keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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