The new film borrows the basic premise from Neil Simon's 1970 comedy, The Out of Towners, in which an Ohio couple, in this case Henry and Nancy Clark (Martin and Hawn), travel to New York for a job interview. In the original, Jack Lemmon was the lead, looking for a better job. The remake is slightly bleaker, with Martin struggling to tread water, having been fired from his old job in Ohio.
Of course, a trip to the Big Apple isn't as easy as a quick flight. The Clarks encounter plane mishaps, luggage mishaps, train mishaps, car mishaps, money mishaps, and hotel mishaps...and that's just for starters. Everything that can go wrong will...and does.
There are times when the film recalls Martin's 1987 Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and even this year's Forces of Nature). Yet, though all these films utilize Murphy's Law as it applies to travel, The Out-of-Towners never quite reaches the same level of inspiration. Yes, lots of bad things happen, but in The Out-of-Towners they feel over-scripted and bland. Whereas Planes, Trains and Automobiles elicited guffaws, The Out-of-Towners merely delivers chuckles.
The entire movie seems oddly restrained. Where's the wild-and-crazy Steve Martin when you need him? Sure, Martin does a little schtick here and there (most notably after accidentally taking some hallucinogens), but for most of the movie he is actually boring. Goldie Hawn fares little better. She spends half the movie pouting about one thing or another, and rarely gets a chance to truly shine.
The best addition to The Out-of-Towners comes in the form of John Cleese. Playing a stuffy hotel manager (borrowing a page from Fawlty Towers), Cleese's quick wit and eccentricities deliver a much needed charge to this otherwise staid comedy.
But, in the end, Cleese is not enough to redeem The Out-of-Towners. The minor laughs it possesses aren't worth seeking out.
[PG-13 - some sex and drug-related humor] (Paramount)