Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones play rivals who must join forces to fend off a mob hit in Ron Shelton’s action comedy.
A film that is not screened in advance for the press is not likely to be an undiscovered masterpiece. But it is not necessarily going to be as bad as such neglect suggests. Just Getting Started, the first feature written and directed by Ron Shelton in more than a decade, is sneaking into theaters without much attention. Shelton, the filmmaker behind such hits as Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump and Tin Cup, hasn’t matched those movies with his new comedy, but given his track record and the cast he’s assembled, headed by Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones, he deserved a better break.
The faltering studio behind the film, Broad Green Pictures, has rightly positioned the movie as a holiday release, aimed squarely at older audiences. It’s set in a retirement community in Palm Springs over the Christmas holidays, and Shelton finds humor in the incongruity between the sunlit desert and the ostentatious Christmas decorations. (Most of the film was actually shot in New Mexico, with just a few establishing shots of the California enclave.) Duke (Freeman) is top dog in the community, with a number of women vying for his sexual attention and a few cronies who are happy to act as lapdogs. But his position is threatened by a mysterious new arrival, Leo (Jones), who challenges him on the golf course and in the boudoir.
Duke also faces a more serious threat in the form of a criminal boss lady (Jane Seymour) who sees him on a TV promo for the resort and sends her son to dispatch him for his testimony against her family some years earlier. Duke has been hiding in a witness protection program until inadvertently unmasked. Leo proves to have the lethal skills that Duke needs to survive a mob hit, and the two are forced into an uneasy partnership.
The first problem with the movie is that it’s a little too jaunty ever to generate any real sense of jeopardy for our hero. A scene with a rattlesnake in a golf bag does offer a nifty jolt, but the suspense in the rest of the film is decidedly low-key. Our two villains are too bumbling to represent much of a threat, and this makes the film lag, even though it’s tightly edited by veteran Paul Seydor.
The humorous interludes in the picture are also of varying quality. Freeman seems to have enjoyed the rare opportunity to play a frivolous role, but he’s sometimes too broad in straining for seductiveness. Jones, on the other hand, demonstrates his expertise without ever breaking a sweat. He worked with Shelton on Cobb, and he underplays most effectively here, bantering smoothly when that’s required, but also convincing us that he’s a force to be reckoned with. Rene Russo (the co-star of Shelton’s Tin Cup) also gives a satisfying performance as a woman mistakenly underestimated by both Duke and Leo.
Less successful are the three ladies trailing after Duke. This is no fault of the three actresses — Elizabeth Ashley (in a rare screen appearance), Sheryl Lee Ralph, and the late Glenne Headly. All of them are a pleasure to watch, but their roles as breathless acolytes desperate to bed Duke seem a bit squirm-inducing at this particular moment in history.
The film is ingratiating enough, but its main value is to make us eager for another, more substantial Shelton movie long before another decade has slipped by.
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo, Glenne Headly, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley, Joe Pantoliano, Jane Seymour
Director-screenwriter: Ron Shelton
Producers: Bill Gerber, Steve Richards
Executive producers: John Mass, Alan Simpson
Director of photography: Barry Peterson
Production designer: Guy Barnes
Costume designer: Carol Oditz
Editor: Paul Seydor
Music: Alex Wurman
PG-13, 91 minutes