Film review: Grumpier Old Men

Subtlety is not exactly a strong point in either the new `Dracula' parody or `Old Men' sequel.

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 27 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

A couple of old-fashioned slapstick comedies have opened for the holidays, though "Grumpier Old Men" is decidedly a retread sequel, and Mel Brooks' "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" is a hit-and-miss parody that never comes close to his masterpiece, "Young Frankenstein."

— "GRUMPIER OLD MEN" doesn't aspire to do anything more than please the audience of the unexpected 1993 hit "Grumpy Old Men." And to that end, it will likely succeed.

In the first film, you may recall, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were longtime crabby neighbors in the Minnesota suburbs, and when full-of-life Ann-Margret moved in across the street, they both pursued her. Subplots included the matching of Lemmon's daughter (Daryl Hannah) with Matthau's son (Kevin Pollack) and a series of foul-mouthed musings from Lemmon's father (Burgess Meredith).

The formula stays intact, more or less, with this sequel. But since Lemmon won Ann-Margret in the first film, there needed to be a new potential love-interest for Matthau — so, believe it or not, they hired Sophia Loren!

The story has Loren converting the local bait shop into an Italian restaurant. Naturally, Lemmon and Matthau try to sabotage her efforts, but Loren is not one to be easily intimidated.

Meanwhile, Hannah and Pollack are having trouble setting a wedding date, thanks to their interfering fathers, and Meredith is as feisty and foul-mouthed as ever (the latter wearing out its welcome rather quickly). And he even chases after Loren's mother (Ann Guilbert).

The jokes are sometimes wheezy, but the film's greatest pleasures come from the talented timing of its stars. If anyone knows his way around a piece of comic dialogue, it's Matthau (who gets the lion's share of screen time in this entry — and he's very funny), matched, of course, by the irrepressible Lemmon.

And what a treat it is to see Loren, even in the service of soft comedy. She deserves better, but it's still nice to see her in any kind of leading role. Julia Roberts and Demi Moore get bigger salaries, but Loren has class (and screen-presence) they can only dream about.

"Grumpier Old Men" is rated PG-13 for considerable vulgar language, including an abundance of double-entendres, as well as some profanity and a couple of scenes that show off Loren's considerable cleavage.

— "DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT" has its amusing moments — but the big surprise here is a centerpiece highlight (or lowlight) that owes more to Monty Python than vintage Mel Brooks.

In the aforementioned moment, Jonathan Harker (Steven Weber, of TV's "Wings") is informed by Prof. Van Helsing (Brooks) that he must drive the stake through the heart of Lucy (Lysette Anthony), who has been turned into a vampire. As Van Helsing hides in a corner, Harker takes off his coat to reveal a white shirt, which signals what's coming. He drives in the stake (mercifully off-camera), and a gusher of blood explodes. (Think of the Black Knight sequence in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" coupled with the vomit scene in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.")

The rest of the film, however, is more in the wise-cracking, anachronistic, off-the-wall vein of Brooks' other films, as he directly spoofs the most famous "Dracula" movies — primarily Bela Lugosi's 1931 version, the 1979 Frank Langella adaptation and the 1992 interpretation that starred Gary Oldman.

Leslie Nielsen is serviceable in the Dracula role (though one wonders what Gene Wilder might have done with it), and Brooks sets up some funny set-pieces as he retells the familiar story. (He does rely heavily on audience knowledge of the earlier films, however.)

And each cast-member (including Amy Yasbeck as Mina, Harvey Korman as Dr. Seward and even Anne Bancroft in an unbilled cameo as a Gypsy) gets an opportunity to shine. But the scene-stealer is Peter MacNicol, who patterns his Renfield after Dwight Frye's performance in the '31 classic, with perhaps just a touch of Marty Feldman's Igor from "Young Frankenstein."

As usual, however, Brooks doesn't know the meaning of subtlety. If it's funny to have Nielsen take off his Gary Oldman-style big hair once, why not have him do it twice?

But there are enough laughs for patient comedy fans to make it worth the admission price. Maybe.

"Dracula: Dead and Loving It" is rated PG-13 for considerable violence, gore and sexual innuendo, as well as profanity and vulgar gags, and there's plenty of cleavage in this one, too.

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