In the Broadway area, there is a big black billboard that spells out in white lettering two words: Avoid Tourists. Consider The Out-of-Towners, Round Two, Exhibit A.
This remake, with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn filling the roles Jack Lemmon and the late Sandy Dennis held 29 years ago, is a totally unnecessary trip to a place that no longer exists--a New York riddled with crime and graft and strikes and malfunctions. For all the connection the current reprise has to reality, it could be called The Out-of-Touch.
In embryonic stage, The Out-of-Towners checked into Plaza Suite--one of four one-acts constituting Neil Simon's hit play--but checked out before rehearsals began. All that surfaced from the original work when Simon turned it into an original screenplay was an anti-New York diatribe which Dennis delivered after she and Lemmon had endured a whole catalogue of calamities that could produce a decidedly bitter taste of the Big Apple. When you extend that whine the feature-length distance--padding it out with man-made Manhattan catastrophes to gripe about--you have an error of comedies, humor of the frustrated sort, grating and strident in the extreme. It was not Neil Simon's happiest hour.
It is considerably less than that in Marc Lawrence's rewrite, "based upon a screenplay by Neil Simon." Apparently, Simon only sold remake rights to the title and the general set-up of Ohio innocents running amok in the big city. No line is repeated--then again, the only one worth repeating was Dennis' lament at every obstacle, "Oh, my Gaaaawd!"--and, in lieu of language, the film lames it out with an overage of physical slapstick and sight gags.
With New York no longer the convenient whipping boy, Lawrence turns the Ohio couple into the villains of the piece, letting their goofiness get downright criminal at times as they maraud their way through Manhattan. When they hit town, the verb is used advisedly: They tool around recklessly in their car rental, making a shambles of Chinatown and the Fulton Fish Market. Hawn even vamps a hotel guest so she and Martin can avail themselves of room service. They slip into a sex-therapy session just for the free food. They even make love in Central Park--only to be discovered by a glittering Tavern on the Green gathering (Mayor Rudolph Giuliani included).They are like a two-person plague.
Martin and Hawn execute their physical comedy like pros, but are hard-pressed at making this couple likeable. The funniest thing about the film couldn't be farther out of town: John Cleese, carrying his silly-ass superciliousness to new heights as a snooty hotel manager obviously transferred from Fawlty Towers. For local comedy, a whole procession of New York stage actors was employed--most conspicuous: Mary Testa as a dominatrix, Josh Mostel as a sex therapist, Gregory Jbara and Cynthia Nixon as his patients, T. Scott Cunningham as a corporate gay, Joe Grifasi and Chris McKinney as cops, Christopher Durang and Mo Gaffney as a paranoid pair, Ernie Sabella as a crook, John Pizzarelli as an orchestra leader, Scotty Bloch as a dowager, Mandy Sigfried as a receptionist. In his final time on film, Joseph Maher does a dizzy hotel aristocrat bit. The film is dedicated to him.
Director Sam Weisman keeps The Out-of-Towners clipping along perkily--if pointlessly--on its incident-filled agenda. Ultimately, it doesn't really have any place to go.