The Movie and Performance:
Clearly riding off the nostalgia of the Grumpy Old Men franchise, it was evident that producers thought they had a renewed vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the late 1990s. On paper it made sense; the comedy duo were hilarious together and remained living beacons of classic comedy. Together, they proved to producers with the Grumpy Old Men franchise that they were capable of still leading a film and surprising box offices with tremendous movie successes even though their respective films weren’t exactly the greatest films. Out to Sea was a Hollywood opportunity to continue that Lemmon-Matthau success and even though the film is blatantly poor, it still is watchable, though perhaps for the wrong reasons.
The premise to Out to Sea is so blatantly paper-thin that it hardly functions as a plot within this film. Yet the foundation of the film centers around Herb Sullivan (Jack Lemmon), a recent widower who is convinced by his brother-in-law Charlie Gordon (Walter Matthau) into going on an all-expenses paid cruise trip to Mexico. Once on board, Herb learns of the catch; Charlie has signed them up as dance hosts with the cruise in an effort to woo wealthy woman aboard the ship in the hopes of marrying one for her money. It’s a ludicrous get-rich-quick scheme that is the basis of the film, to which both characters find love in their own way and fight through the complications that ensue, especially with the cruise liner’s tyrannical director (Star Trek’s Brent Spiner).
The film’s laughs are scarce primarily because the script is an awful attempt at comedy. Part of the flaw is the film’s launching into the plot without any exposition. The characters played by Lemmon and Matthau are hardly given any depth to allow the viewer to appreciate their plight or motivations. Instead, and it becomes apparent very quickly when watching this film, that Out to Sea was heavily reliant on the charm and charisma from Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. This is a film that thrives off the Lemmon-Matthau nostalgia and it mostly works due to their talented ability to take a substandard script and make it into more, which was not the first time in their careers that they were capable of achieving such a thing. However, the fundamental flaw of the film that they weren’t able to conquer was the reality that Out to Sea offers hardly anything unique to viewers. With their characters essentially being copies of their Grumpy Old Men roles with an interjection of dancing, it made the film’s comedy and premise mostly come off as stale and obviously recycled.
Yet despite the film’s shortcomings, the film gets by on its star power who were all able to interject their own variation of charm into the film. The film also functioned as an opportunity to cast some of classic Hollywood’s Golden Age actors and put them center in a film for one final time. The film additionally stars: Gloria DeHaven, who is primarily remembered for her performance in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, comedy great Hal Linden from the 1970s show Barney Miller, vaudeville-era dancer/singer/actor Donald O’Connor, Edward Mulhare, whose career spanned five decades but is primarily known for his work with the 1980s show Knight Rider, Golden Girls alum Rue McClanahan, and Broadway/comedy legend Elaine Stritch who ultimately became remembered as Alec Baldwin’s demanding mother on the sitcom 30 Rock. Together, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, they provided a sort of charm that allowed for the viewer to forgive the film’s numerous shortcomings. However, the film’s largest shortcoming is Walter Matthau’s interactions and wooing of Dyan Cannon, who was meant to be the exuberant and most vicarious character of the film. Instead, she is the weakest element of the film, to which her chemistry with Matthau was nonexistent in every capacity. Cannon was so obviously miscast in this film and her performance lacked any of the charm that those around her were able to provide. Cannon relied on the script for her performance and with the script being poor, she was thereby inferior in contrast to the remainder of the cast.
However, Jack Lemmon’s scenes with Gloria DeHaven, which is given equal attention in the film, compensates for that film shortcoming. His scenes with DeHaven are tender and touching, giving the viewer chances to smile and appreciate the slow evolution of love between them. Added to that, this is one of the rare Lemmon-Matthau films in which Lemmon actually stole the movie from his co-star. Out to Sea is more of Lemmon’s film, where he actually reversed the Lemmon-Matthau dynamic and had his co-star being reliant upon him. Scenes where this dynamic shift is especially evident is when Lemmon is teaching Matthau how to dance, which are scenes that are uniquely funny, yet adorable at the same time (they even do a small tango together). Lemmon also is the heart of the film, giving his character some range in regards to the theme of love. His performance, while somewhat inconsistent, still conveys how one could be scared of love after losing the one they loved due to illness. These scenes are very brief, but when they occur, Lemmon gave them tremendous attention. As a result, Lemmon’s Herb Sullivan is the most human character of the film.
Out to Sea is watchable, but it isn’t exactly comedic gold nor does it offer anything uniquely special. To the average filmgoer, this will be considered a poor film that is desperately attempting to be funny. However , its star power, for a lack of a better phrase, keeps the film afloat. Without its talented cast, this film would have been an outright disaster. Out to Sea can be only viewed one-of-two ways: a guilty pleasure or for a nostalgic experience of seeing classic actors in one final film together. If the film is watched from either of these vantages, Out to Sea achieves at least one thing, it causes you to smile.