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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor