“JUST GETTING STARTED” — 1 star — Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo, Glenne Headly, Joe Pantoliano; PG-13 (language, suggestive material and brief violence); in general release
There’s a moment toward the end of a lot of movies where the plot seems to be resolved, but you can sense the story isn’t finished. The bad guy is still alive, the real monster is finally revealed and something still has to happen. You can sense it subconsciously, even if you can’t put your finger on it.
Ron Shelton’s “Just Getting Started” gets to that moment, then rolls the closing credits. It’s as if everyone involved got to the end of a really long day of shooting, said “good enough,” and just decided to chuck the last five minutes of the movie.
The stuff that did make it on screen is awkwardly divided between two plot threads. In the first, the vengeful wife of an incarcerated mob boss hires an assassin to hunt down Duke (Morgan Freeman), the FBI informant responsible for putting her husband behind bars. Duke is living under witness protection as the manager of a posh resort for the wealthy not-quite-elderly in Palm Springs named Villa Capri.
It’s a pretty nice gig, with a custom four-seat golf cart, and it gives Duke plenty of opportunity to chase the sex-obsessed single female residents of Villa Capri while filling the rest of his free time with gambling and golf.
The second plot gets rolling when a new resident named Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives in town with a 10-gallon hat and a Ford pickup truck. Leo is a clear threat to Duke’s top-dog status, and when a comely regional director named Suzie (Rene Russo) arrives to inspect the resort, they both decide to seduce her.
It’s Christmastime in Palm Springs, but “Just Getting Started” isn’t quite a holiday movie. Most of Shelton’s film is focused around life at Villa Capri and the budding love triangle between its leads. At times, it becomes so focused that you forget Duke is the target of a mob assassin. Then a cart blows up or someone shoots off a gun to jog your memory.
If you’ve seen more than three movies in your lifetime, you will naturally start to suspect that either Leo or even Suzie is the secret assassin, but you will be wrong. Then you will be really disappointed when you find out who the assassin is. Then you will be even more disappointed when they try to resolve that plot in the most unremarkable way possible.
It seems Shelton and Co. expect “Just Getting Started’s” veteran leads to carry the film, and they are more than capable. But here, it feels like they are merely going through the motions, offering two-dimensional versions of the performances we have come to love over the years as we drift through a story that just doesn’t engage. There are some mild laughs, but nothing to justify a full ticket price. To be honest, thanks to the dud ending, this one will even be a stretch on cable.
With the kind of raw materials he was working with, it’s an ironic shame Shelton didn’t put a little more thought into “Just Getting Started’s” finish.
“Just Getting Started” is rated PG-13 for language, suggestive material and brief violence; running time: 91 minutes.