Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones putter around at a New Mexico retirement home for over an hour before any semblance of plot starts to take shape in Just Getting Started, a senior citizen comedy so listless it may have trouble keeping its intended audience awake.
Freeman is Duke, the hot-stuff retirement home manager who has to fight off a trio of lustful seniors (Elizabeth Ashley, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Glenne Headly – in her final film role) so he can play poker with his yes-men buddies (Joe Pantoliano, George Wallace, and Graham Beckel).
But into Duke’s world comes retired FBI agent Leo (Jones), who seems to be a better poker player, a better golfer… and even a little smoother with the ladies.
And when pretty young(er) thing Suzie (Rene Russo) strolls into town, the pair’s petty rivalry is dialed up a notch. All the way up to “2”, which is where Just Getting Started stays for more than an hour before the real story starts to kick in.
We know from the film’s opening scene that Duke is a onetime FBI informant – or something like that – and that a mafioso queen (Jane Seymour) has spotted him in a TV advertisement and put out a hit.
But for most of Just Getting Started, that mafia hit amounts to merely the old classic rattlesnake-in-a-golfer’s bag before a cart spectacularly explodes at the end of the second act.
These are the elements of a goofball Dumb and Dumber-style comedy, but Just Getting Started is played almost entirely straight. Dumb, yes, and entirely broad, but it never dives into the inane comedic material with the kind of glee that might extract some fun out of the premise.
Seymour – who wears a new wig in every scene – never interacts with the rest of the cast, and her scenes feel like a last-minute addition. So, too, does the entire mafia subplot, which is never referenced during the first two acts of the film before leading to a violent action-oriented climax that feels entirely at odds with the leisurely film that preceded it.
Not that the film up to that point was any great shakes. I’d watch Freeman and Jones – and the rest of this talented cast – eat lunch, but the laundry list of lightweight day-to-day goings on the retirement home give them precious little to do. For whatever else Just Getting Started fails to do, the squandering of its on-screen talent is its greatest fault.
Just Getting Started was directed by Ron Shelton, a director once known for classic sports comedies like Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump, and Tin Cup. It’s his first film since 2003’s Hollywood Homicide, and certainly isn’t a return to form, though the director may not be at fault – shoddy (and frequent) ADR and the mishmash plot construction are strong indications of heavy post-production alterations.