Harry Langer (Jack Nicholson) and Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) in Something's Gotta Give (courtesy photo)

New comedy irons out all the creases and leaves a flat film

A s the curtain rises on this new comedy about the politics of age and dating, we see a handful of slim young things strutting through city streets. Without dialogue, the city bends to their will as their radiant faces point blithely forward. Men are helpless before their charms, we're told, even old bachelors (like Nicholson's Harry Langer) who should really stop being afraid of the accomplished women in their own age bracket.

Whoever said a sermon should be subtle?

Not Nancy Myers, the writer/director of Something's Gotta Give, and apparently also its main character. Like Myers, Keaton's Erica Barry is a successful 50-something writer. By the end of the film, Barry will have penned a new hit play, swept a dreamy doctor 20 years her junior off his feet, conquered the prejudices of an eternal bachelor, and found love, love, love. From all the writerly wish fulfillment going on here, you would think Woody Allen underwent a sex change. That impression is bolstered when you realize, as in Allen's recent work, that you're not laughing much.

Not that there are no laughs at all: When Erica discovers Harry raiding her fridge in his underwear - Harry's dating her daughter, and the couple have come to Erica's Hamptons home without invitation - there is a promising standoff. Then Harry's non-intruder status is verified, and we're force-fed the first of many mirthless dialogue sequences in which Myers, via Erica, berates Harry for his immature taste in women. "If you didn't want him to date children," one wants to shout to the filmmaker, "you shouldn't have made him Jack Nicholson!"

Before the Hamptons home explodes with social awkwardness, Harry has a heart attack. His doctor, naturally, is Keanu Reeves (old Ted has now played a doctor, a messiah, and a Buddha - is The West Wing looking for a new president?). Harry is confined to Erica's care, which allows Dr. Keanu to make lots of puppy-dog eyes at her during house calls.

Something's Gotta Give
Dir. & writ. Nancy Myers; feat. Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand (PG-13)
In between doctor's visits, though, Harry and Erica get friendly: They go for walks on the beach; they hang out in their PJs; they Google each other. There are moments of believable tenderness and humor in the film, and most of them come here. When the two finally land in bed together, they're funny and touching. It doesn't last long but (as Viagra-popping Harry would be quick to say) you should be happy it happens at all.

It seems that the screenplay's wit is dulled by the same hazy Wrinkle-B-Gone filter that Myers' cinematographer has pasted to his camera to smooth out the cast's skin. The writer's message might have been more entertaining had more of it been delivered by Frances McDormand, who delights in the first few scenes and is then forgotten for most of the film.

In the end, the movie is as slight and misleading as its poster, in which Nicholson has been airbrushed back to his mid-40s and Keaton looks a week or two older than that. It's hard to take the movie's "love the wrinkly!" message seriously when it comes wrapped in that poster - unfortunately, it's not that easy to take un-seriously, either. •

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