One of the most pleasant surprised for me this past summer was Going in Style. This heist movie/old-man comedy directed by Zach Braff was thoroughly entertaining and contained some truly funny parts. This was due, at least partially, to the stellar leading cast of Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, and Morgan Freeman. Freeman, who has become the face of the old-man comedy genre, returns in Just Getting Started, another comedy about disgruntled old men doing exactly what they want to do. Unfortunately, in every aspect that Going in Style was an entertaining and, dare I say, good movie, Just Getting Started completely crashes and burns.
Just Getting Started tells the story of two spoiled old men. Duke is the resident manager and local celebrity of the Villa Capri, a retirement home located in the middle of the California desert. Duke’s life is perfect as he balances fame, luxury, and at least three different women who want to sleep with him on a regular basis. This is disrupted when Leo arrives, a full-blooded Texan with enough money to buy a country. Leo is also a bachelor, and his money and superior golf skills quickly steal Duke’s fame and girlfriends. Leo, however, has his eyes set on Suzie, a working woman. A feud arises between Duke and Leo, until the plot is suddenly interrupted when it becomes apparent that someone is trying to assassinate Duke. The two team up to try and track down Duke’s attempted killer.
Just Getting Started is an excruciatingly bad film from start to finish. However, if I were to try and scrape up a single redemptive quality, it would be Morgan Freeman. Freeman has starred in seven of these old-man comedies in the past ten years, including The Bucket List, The Maiden Heist, RED, and the aforementioned Going in Style. This is the case partially because Morgan Freeman can do whatever the heck he wants, but mostly because Freeman makes a really funny old man. His performances in The Bucket List and The Maiden Heist are simple, but create characters that are subtle and hilarious. With this seventh old-man movie, Freeman doesn’t create a very thorough character like he has previously in the genre, but that doesn’t stop him from being pretty funny at times.
Unfortunately, opposite Freeman is Tommy Lee Jones. Jones can also be a funny actor, but his humor only comes from a developed character, and only in a drama. In the full-fledged comedy that this is, Jones doesn’t create a character and he doesn’t get the contrast of the movie being a drama. The result is an often painful performance. Thankfully, Jones has Rene Russo in the film to help him feel better. Russo might have been good, but frankly it was hard to tell, as her character is the most shallow, inconsistent character I’ve seen this entire year. One minute, Russo’s character is an independent woman who is “married to her work.” The next minute, she’s a damsel in distress. The film attempts to convey her as a strong and professional woman, then has her succumbing to Freeman and Jones’ woos during business meetings. It’s inconsistent, it’s certainly sexist, but mostly, it’s just bad storytelling.
Rene Russo’s character is in many ways a condensed version of the plot’s nature, representing the inconsistency and mindlessness of the plot. The movie can never seem to decide if the two lead characters are supposed to be feuding or are best buds, as it alternates between the two without any rhyme or reason. The switch from rivalry-comedy to action-comedy is executed so poorly you don’t even realize why the characters are holding guns until after they’ve shot them. The film also decides to save the identity of the villain for a reveal at an awkward point somewhere between the middle and the end, and when the reveal does come, you can’t figure out why it was delayed for so long. Speaking of villains, the film’s opening scene sets up for a grander plot which is left as a completely loose end at the end of the film. And finally, the movie’s setting during Christmastime proves to be completely irrelevant. Well, not completely. While I don’t ever intend to watch this movie again, now I at least have a solid excuse eleven months out of the year.
Writer/director Ron Shelton is the man responsible for this massacre of plot, genre, and pretty much every other aspect of storytelling. Just Getting Started is Shelton’s first theatrical film in fourteen years, and after seeing how much of a disaster it was, I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Shelton’s return is not just getting started. If you’re wanting to watch a movie in a theater, even Justice League is a better choice. And if you’re looking for a pleasant old-man comedy, rent Going in Style. That film at least passed the bar of being a decent movie.
I give Just Getting Started a 3.2/10.