The latest action-comedy starring Morgan Freeman, “Just Getting Started,” should have never gotten started in the first place. While Freeman might be one of the most respected and admired actors in Hollywood, the reality is that he’s 80 years old right now and he’s trying to pretend that he’s half his age. He should stick to dramas – or at least, to documentary voiceovers.
The problem, quite simply, is that as much as Hollywood wants us to believe it, action-comedies starring 80-year-olds aren’t funny. In fact, they’re a little bit sad. It’s clear that Freeman is still a talented actor, but here’s the thing: the entire movie seems like it’s lifted from the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.
In no small part, that’s because the director of the film is Ron Shelton, himself a very sprightly 72. You might recognize the name, even though he hasn’t made a major movie in literally two decades. Back in 1996, he gave us “Tin Cup” (about a middle-age golfer who falls in love with a beautiful woman and must battle his rival on the golf course for her affection). And back in 1988, he gave us the famous baseball movie “Bull Durham,” starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. In between those two films, he gave us “White Men Can’t Jump.”
You could call Shelton a Hollywood legend, and you could call Freeman a legend, but two wrongs don’t make a right. The biggest problem is that “Just Getting Started” is the same movie as “Tin Cup” – just with actors and actresses who are much older. So the film isn’t even original, it’s blatantly derivative.
Consider the brazen similarity between “Tin Cup” and “Just Getting Started” – they both star a disgraced former character (Morgan Freeman as a resort owner with a shady past and Kevin Costner as a golfer with a shady past) trying to win the affection of a woman (Rene Russo, in both movies!), all while trying to out-do a rival at a resort-type setting (“Just Getting Started” is set at a Palm Spring resort).
In the case of “Just Getting Started,” Tommy Lee Jones plays the role of the rival. Sure, at one time he was a macho leading man, but right now, the guy is 71 years old and he’s not exactly a heartthrob anymore. Despite that being the case, the movie’s trailer has plenty of sexual innuendo in it – suggesting that all the older women at the Villa Capri resort have something hot going on for first Morgan Freeman (who plays the character Duke Diver) and then for Tommy Lee Jones (who plays a military vet named Leo). And, of course, there’s Rene Russo. She still looks great, but let’s face facts here – she’s now 63 years old.
So if you boil down “Just Getting Started” to the core essentials, you have the story of an 80-year-old guy trying to go all alpha male on a 71-year-old guy, who are both vying for the attentions of a 63-year-old woman. In between, there are jokes about retirees. You get the idea here.
This seems like a movie that should have been made about 20 years ago with much younger actors. In fact, some of the early reviews that have come in on “Just Getting Started” have suggested that it’s reminiscent of 1990’s-style comedies. Again, not a coincidence, because the film essentially gathers together a group of people who once might have made this type of movie work…. 20 years ago.
What’s really troubling about all this, of course, is that Morgan Freeman should know better. This is now his third “geriatric comedy” – the first was “Last Vegas,” in which Freeman, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline partner in a Las Vegas bachelor party movie starring retirees. And that was followed by “Going in Style,” starring Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin in a heist caper. Again, it’s a movie in the genre of “spry old guy pulling off things you wouldn’t expect while making jokes about retirement.”
Obviously, criticizing Morgan Freeman for taking on these roles carries a bit of risk. Critics might say it’s more proof of “ageism” in Hollywood, or more proof that Hollywood is an industry that only worries about producing films for the 18-to-34 demographic. OK, but maybe if “Just Getting Started” were funnier, Freeman’s role in this movie might be forgivable.
But, at its best, the film relies on the comic timing of Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones to make things work. You can give Freeman a cool name (Duke Diver is actually a good name), some wacky resort clothes (oh look, now Freeman is wearing aqua! Now he’s wearing pink!), and an annoying wink (which seems to suggest that Freeman is, umm, still virile), but the character doesn’t work.
If you’re playing devil’s advocate, you could say that Robert De Niro (now age 74) managed to pull off a few great comic roles, why can’t Freeman? But the thing is, De Niro was so successful in his Ben Stiller “Meet the Fockers” movies because he was playing against type. In other words, it was hilarious when a known macho guy who played mafia bosses suddenly played characters with funny personality tics. It was funny because we knew that it was the opposite of what De Niro normally played.
Freeman, for better or for worse, is more believable in a serious, dramatic role – like maybe the acting President of the United States, or some serious voice of reason in a thrilling drama. Maybe he’s a fun guy – who knows? – but it’s just painful to see such a great actor trying to ham it up on the big screen. Maybe that kind of shtick would work during an award ceremony, or a quick 5-minute routine on “SNL” – but to watch it for more than 90 minutes is just painful. Watching Morgan Freeman parading around in wacky resort clothes is like watching your mom dress up in skin-tight black pants, high heels and a leopard-skin top with a plunging neckline – it’s just plain embarrassing. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
At some point, movie audiences should be silently hoping that “Just Getting Started” bombs when it hits theaters on December 8. You see, if the film does reasonably well, then it will encourage Freeman to take on another role in the same genre. He’s now done “Last Vegas” and “Going in Style.” This “Just Getting Started” film is not a random, one-off occurrence – it’s part of a very dangerous pattern. If Freeman really wants to end his Hollywood career in style and party in Vegas, here’s a bit of safe advice: Stop making comedies like “Just Getting Started” and stick to dramas.