The Morgan Freeman geezer comedy Simply Getting Began can't even get it up

Picture: Broad Inexperienced Photos
Movie Review

Just Getting Started


Just Getting Started


Ron Shelton


91 minutes






Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo, Glenne Headly, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley


Theaters everywhere December 8

“I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap,” declares Kevin Costner’s fading minor-league catcher Crash Davis in a famous scene in Bull Durham, the movie that kicked off writer-director Ron Shelton’s erratic career as a literate, sports-and-sex-obsessed male apologist. Nearly three decades later, his characters are still existentially preoccupied with scoring (in both senses of the word), but the mojo is gone; Just Getting Started, his first theatrical feature since the forgotten Hollywood Homicide in 2003, is dramatically and comically impotent.


Its protagonist, Duke Diver (Morgan Freeman), is a former New Jersey mob lawyer with a lifelong popularity complex (it goes back to losing a sixth-grade school election, per his self-analysis) who went into federal witness protection and found a new life as the manager, resident Santa Claus impersonator, and neighborhood Casanova of a luxurious Palm Springs retirement community called Villa Capri, where he beds a rotating harem of widows and divorcées in between golf and poker games. Into Duke’s personal fiefdom of over-compensation come two new arrivals: Leo (Tommy Lee Jones), a Texan with bundles of money and a murky past, and Suzie (Rene Russo), an auditor for the corporation that owns Villa Capri.

There have been worse premises for retirement-age boys-will-be-boys comedies, most of which seem to star or co-star Freeman—Last Vegas, Going In Style, and so on. But plotting has never been a major concern for Shelton, and Just Getting Started is a shambles, its title both intentionally and unintentionally ironic; at different points, it strains to be an AARP sex farce, a love triangle, and an action-comedy (complete with incongruous car chases and explosions), with painfully arthritic consequences. (It’s also set at Christmastime, leading to several feeble visual gags about southern California’s un-wintery weather.) The model, as with all of Shelton’s movies, seems to be the laid-back situational camaraderie of Howard Hawks. Except that Just Getting Started looks like a cheap sitcom—albeit a cheap sitcom where characters keep name-dropping Shakespeare, Baudelaire, and Cummings. (“The poets,” to quote The Boy Next Door.)

One can only rely on Shelton’s Baby Boomer literary pretensions for the occasional pseudo-Updike-an statement, as when Leo explains to Suzie that he and Leo aren’t competing for her, but for the right to woo her: “These are fine distinctions that men make.” Despite a guttering self-awareness about male insecurity and gamesmanship, his characters’ limply defined personalities never generate conflict or tension; it comes externally, from some vengeful gangsters imported from another, even cheaper film. Leo and Duke seem to like each other one moment and hate each other’s guts the next; the result doesn’t bring to mind a begrudging friendship born out of competition, but a film that’s been put together at random, possibly with an hour missing. But who’d want more of this creaky spectacle?

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