FILM / Now is the winter of their discontent: Grumpy Old Men (12); The Adventures of Huck Finn (PG); Josh and SAM (12); Rookie of the Year (PG): A Business Affair (15); Look Who's Talking Now (12)

SEPTUAGENARIAN storming of the box-office is rare enough for us to raise a cheer even before Grumpy Old Men (12) starts. Starring Walter Matthau (73) and Jack Lemmon (a spring chicken of 69), it took dollars 70m in the US - a considerable feat in the culture of Culkin. But watching the film you understand why, since it too is about childhood - second childhood, and the infantilism of old age. Lemmon and Matthau play two miserable old codgers, neighbours in the Minnesota snow, who scrap and snarl in dependent enmity, with practical jokes and sour tirades. When Ann-Margret's merry widow moves in nearby, and improbably starts to flirt with the duo, she warms the frozen wasteland and stokes up the fires of jealousy.

Lemmon and Matthau have always been an odd couple. Not least of the oddities is how rarely they have been a couple. They're the Laurel and Hardy of this neurotic age, but Grumpy Old Men is only their fifth co-appearance, whereas Stan and Ollie starred together 26 times. Even allowing for the greater variety of modern careers, it's an indication of the fitful, tetchy nature of the Lemmon-Matthau relationship which has prevented us from taking them to our hearts (nobody refers to them as Jack and Walter). They have always been best playing off this abrasiveness, in rapid-fire exchanges, thriving on the tension of confinement - the shared flat of The Odd Couple, or the imprisoning hospital room in The Fortune Cookie.

There's an uneasiness in seeing this quintessentially urban couple in the wilds of the countryside, fishing and snow-fighting - going for slapstick gags. And it's surely a mistake not to give them more scenes together. Director Donald Petrie goes in for a lot of syncopated editing, switching between Lemmon cursing and fretting in his log cabin and Matthau cursing and fretting in his. This antiphonal approach stresses the characters' similarities rather than their differences, which were always the source of their comedy and chemistry. When they do act together, trading insults and gags, they transform a fairly thin script, hitting us with the old schtick.

Ann-Margret gives good, trilling support, striking a blow for middle age in a cast which, apart from Daryl Hannah and Kevin Pollak as the men's children, is a gerontocracy. Ossie Davis - on leave from Spike Lee - plays a local bait-shop owner, who speaks for the pleasures of old age, striking a note of rapture that the film's ending takes up. Before then, 85-year-old Burgess Meredith (who seems to have played old men since he was quite young), as Lemmon's priapic pa, suggests a darker view of old age, as a time of sexual despair, closer to the film's heart. The goatish Meredith, resembling Wilfrid Brambell's Steptoe, exhorts his boy to 'mount' the comely neighbour. It's good to see this old trooper still performing, but the material demeans him.

And then there is Jack Lemmon. A twist of Lemmon goes a long way. Despite the name, asperity or bitterness is what this arch ingratiator lacks. Here, over-deliberate and sickeningly folksy ('holy moly' and 'Jeez Louise' are his catchphrases), he's supposed to be a retired history professor. But that beaming face has no past in it, only the present urgency to be liked. It is far easier to believe in Matthau as a retired TV-repairman (there's an unexplored class frisson) - and he has bite and unexpectedness. But if anything he's a little too carefree, leaving his best moments for the out-takes which get played over the credits. Where Lemmon begs for our approval, Matthau barely bothers to perform. An odd couple indeed.

The Adventures of Huck Finn (PG) loses the texture of Twain's classic, but not its spirit. Twain's precise South-western and Mississippi dialects are blurred into a more palatable movie Southernness: the runaway slave Jim (Courtney B Vance) speaks something close to the Queen's English. The river itself, which in the book is capricious and treacherous, governing the narrative as well as Huck and Jim, is largely unexplored. The cinematography by Janusz Kominski, an Oscar-winner for Schindler's List, is beautiful, but in a picturesque, unexpressive way.

Nevertheless it's a delightful romp. The director and adaptor, Stephen Sommers, has filleted the book's key episodes and presents them at a whirling, compulsive pace. If Elijah Wood's puckish Huck doesn't conform to T S Eliot's view of the character as one of the most solitary figures in fiction, he does have the right restlessness and innocence. Sommers has made a paean to freedom, and places at its centre a Huck who represents the instinctive goodness that can triumph over convention. The lack of human pathos is compensated for by rich comedy, especially in the show-stealing scenes in which Jason Robards and Robbie Coltrane play shady con-men impersonating a pair of bereaved brothers in order to benefit from a will. For all its betrayals, minor and major, the film has clearly been made out of a love for the book.

Josh and SAM (12), a wayward but original tale about the role of lies and fantasy in childhood, might be a distant descendant of Huck Finn. Twelve-year-old Josh (Jacob Tierney) tells his rivalrous sibling, Sam, that his parents sold him to the US government to be transformed into a secret, self-guiding weapon - a Strategically Altered Mutant. The film hedges on whether Josh's fantasy is also its own: we are forever on the point of discovering the truth. What ensues is a kids' road-movie, with the children on the run from their separated parents. On the way, they may or may not have killed a man and they meet a girl (Martha Plimpton) who may or not be 'The Liberty Maid'. Confusing? But so is adolescence, the film is saying. The haze has the satisfying feel of observed confusion rather than cop-out certainty. Tierney is funny and convincing as Josh, channelling his pain into fights or fibs. And, as the perplexed dad, Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day's Ned Ryerson) cements his status as the cinema's foremost nerd-interpreter.

Still on childhood, Rookie of the Year (PG) is a baseball movie about a kid called Henry who, after surgery, develops such a powerful arm that he becomes a star pitcher with the Chicago Cubs. Baseball fans may feel as if they're watching an innings by Michael Jordan, now struggling after his switch from basketball, so many are the film's misses. Juicy satirical targets like sporting commercialism are passed by, and the action scenes are full of fumbles. As the wonder-kid, the relentlessly uncharismatic Thomas Ian Nicholas confirms the adage that you should never hire a leading man with three first names. If you don't know baseball, you won't understand the climax. If you do, you'll find it preposterous.

A Business Affair (15) is bad beyond the power of criticism to evoke. Its literary romantic triangle is reasonably plotted, but what fascinates is hearing fresh absurdities delivered by actors as distinguished as Christopher Walken (the avaricious publisher hero), Jonathan Pryce (his star author) and Carole Bouquet (the spoils). The script has an unerring instinct for the clunky detail, with a Euro-production feel, as if processed by a committee of translators.

Look Who's Talking Now (12) is a glutinous mix of all that's worst in movies: cloying sentimentality, anthropomorphised animals with actors' voices, music by the Smurfs, and a little boy coming to terms with there not being a Santa. Avoid.

Cinema details: Review, page 74.

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game