Duke Diver (five-time Oscar nominee (and one-time winner) Morgan Freeman) lives like a king. He is a big shot in his Palm Springs senior community, Villa Capri (the film’s original title). Not only is he the manager, he also has his own lackeys and multiple women lusting after him. Then, mysterious cowboy Leo (four-time Oscar nominee (and one-time winner) Tommy Lee Jones) shows up and immediately challenges Dukes rule. Also, Suzie (Rene Russo) is sent in by corporate to evaluate Duke’s managing of Villa Capri. Also, also, as revealed in the film’s opening scene, the mob is trying to kill Duke.
You would not think that a film as stuffed with goofiness as Just Getting Started, starring such entertaining actors and directed by a capable director (Ron Shelton (who also wrote) in his first big-screen directorial effort since 2003’s Hollywood Homicide) could turn out to be a boring slog, but it most definitely is.
Just Getting Started seems like it has the pieces to be a slight, yet fun, showcase for its stars. But it never gets out of its own way. Part of the problem is how overstuffed it is. It has three major stories, all centered around Freeman’s character, and they do not fit comfortably together. They keep awkwardly bumping into each other and, as a result, none of them are able to build any momentum, comedic or otherwise. Just Getting Started pointlessly stumbles forward, from scene to scene, until its conclusion.
Ditching the mob storyline altogether would certainly have been in Shelton’s best interest. It is not exciting and it is not funny (though, to be fair, nothing about the film is particularly funny). It would have freed up the story to actually be about its characters. As it is, the film does not have time to develop them.
Freeman’s Duke is happy, outgoing and loves his life reigning over his small kingdom. He is the best thing about the film (though that does not say much) and does seem to be having a pretty good time with his underwritten role. Jones’ Leo seems created specifically to be a foil for Duke: he is quiet, laid back and seems to be better than Duke at everything Duke is good at. Unfortunately, the casting is a little too spot on as Jones does not bring much energy to the character. Russo’s Suzie is just there to be the object of the men’s affections, so her character is very much at the whim of the screenplay.
Some films are just so uninteresting, that there is not much to say about them. Just Getting Started (86 minutes not including the end credits) is that kind of film. Certainly it is a bad film. It is dumb and poorly structured. But it is the worst kind of bad film in that it is completely unremarkable. Sometimes talented people come together to make something that is a tedious waste of everyone’s time in every way. Freeman, Jones, Russo, Shelton (and even supporting players like Joe Pantoliano, Glenne Headly and Sheryl Lee Ralph) have all been involved in better projects. Do yourself a favor and watch one of those instead.
1½ out of 5
Morgan Freeman as Duke
Tommy Lee Jones as Leo
Rene Russo as Suzie
Glenne Headly as Margarite
Sheryl Lee Ralph as Roberta
Elizabeth Ashley as Lily
Joe Pantoliano as Joey
George Wallace as Larry
Written and Directed by Ron Shelton