Walter Matthau plays Charlie, a compulsive gambler and constant womanizer. Jack Lemmon is Herb, a widower who was married to Charlie's sister. Naturally, the two barely get along: usually Charlie is only out for a buck, and Herb only keeps up communications because there's no one else to talk to.
Charlie has a new scheme up his sleeve. He invites Herb out on a Pacific cruise to forget their troubles. Charlie is certain that he'll be able to find a rich, available woman and all his troubles will be solved. Somehow, Herb is talked into going, only to discover later that to pay for the trip, Charlie signed the two of them up as dance hosts.
On the romance front, Charlie sets his sights on the beautiful Liz (Dyan Cannon), but must fight off rivals for her affection, as well as her disapproving mother (Elaine Stritch). Herb discovers a kindred spirit in the widow Vivian (Gloria De Haven), but must both overcome Charlie's unhelpful foundation of lies, and come to terms with the memory of his deceased wife.
As dance hosts, the pair have even more problems. First of all, the cruise director, Gil (played with relish by Brent Spiner), is a strict authoritarian. He is aiming for the title of Vice President of Entertainment with the cruise line, and will squash anyone who gets in his way (namely Charlie and Herb). Another minor problem is that, although Herb is an award-winning dancer, Charlie doesn't know a single step.
Even with all this setup, Out to Sea never quite goes anywhere. Sure, there are several mildly amusing scenes, but the film cries out for a big laugh, and there's not a one to be seen.
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon have got the bickering buddy bit down to perfection. But here, they're a good comedy team searching for material. There are a few reflex laughs from watching the familiar schtick, but for the most part, they are simply coasting.
Dyan Cannon and Gloria De Haven don't really flesh out their roles as much more than mere objects to be pursued. Cannon is appropriately alluring in her role as Matthau's object of affection. The fact that Matthau appears to be her mother's age is distracting to the audience, but it doesn't seem to bother her. De Haven has a calm, endearing presence, and makes a nice match for Lemmon, though you wish there was just a bit more depth to her character.
The supporting ranks of Out to Sea show are a surprising strength. A nearly unrecognizable Brent Spiner proves that there is life after Data with the best performance in the whole film. Elaine Stritch proves an interesting foil for Matthau as Liz's protective, wiseacre mother. There's also some nostalgic value in seeing several older movie stars and television stars such as Hal Linden or Rue McClanahan that make up the rest of the crew.
With Out to Sea, Martha Coolidge has directed a pleasant comedy, but not a side-splitting one.
If the pleasure of seeing Matthau and Lemmon together again rank this one high on your list,
you won't be disappointed. However, if you yearn for side-slitting humor, you had best look elsewhere.