Mid-life catastrophe

Town & Country suffers from tired jokes, hackneyed script and weary actors

Though you may be tempted to root for a film where the cast is something other than teenaged, the abysmal Town & Country is enough to make one damn the middle-aged as shiftless, vacant and self-absorbed.

Town & Country is a mid-life marital comedy featuring a cast on the geezer end of Hollywood that seems to fancy itself a screwball tale of uptown New Yorkers undone by their sex drives a la Woody Allen. But while Allen appears to write to amuse himself, the minds behind Town & Country (co-scriptors Buck Henry and Michael Laughlin) are more mercenary. A film of low expectations, Town & Country feels like the kind of calculated, lifeless product written by jaded Hollywood hacks in response to what they think middle-America might want. Such movies don’t pander to bad taste, they try to anticipate it. What generally results from such preemptive mediocrity are the kind of unimaginative, unfunny, characterless films that do for comedy what the Olive Garden does for Italian food.

Porter (Warren Beatty) and Ellie Stoddard (Diane Keaton) are smug, wealthy Manhattanites celebrating their anniversary in Paris with their dearest friends Mona (Goldie Hawn) and Griffin (Gary Shandling).

But when Mona finds out Griffin is cheating on her, the tidy foursome scatters like buckshot. And while Porter attempts to comfort a distraught Mona, he is making time with flighty musician Alex (Nastassia Kinski) as the film offers the predictable epiphany that even “perfect” marriages like Porter and Ellie’s are flawed.

Town & Country is written by men who assert that they can’t be trusted, but it remains faithful to the Hollywood writer’s cliché that such cheating cads will eventually realize the error of their ways and return to the marital nest.

But before that cozy restitution of domestic order occurs, those unlucky enough to choose Town & Country as an evening’s entertainment must suffer through director Peter Chelsom’s interminable domino effect of wacky incidents, including characters who dutifully scramble up onto roofs only to end up falling down, others who are caught with their pants (literally) down, dress up like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe for Halloween parties, have red wine spilled on white clothes, ad seemingly infinitum.

Screenwriters Henry and Laughlin practice such a primitive style of comedy, the mere sight of overweight shirtless men and the flamboyantly gay is meant to be instantly heee-larious. It is, in other words, a brand of broad visual comedy that appeals to kindergartners and those with a limited understanding of the English language.

When the feeble, Tom & Jerry imbecility of such situations begins wearing thin, the characters take off for some distant locale, as if a change of scenery will distract us from the absence of humor. Like a middle-aged man whose thinning ponytail and tanning bed complexion are only enhanced by a hot sports car, all of this fancy gallivanting about underscores how stagnant and directionless the film is.

And so, Mona and Porter (best friends since childhood who discover each other’s sex appeal after a couple of beers) jet down to Mississippi, Porter and Griffin jet to Sun Valley, and all set off at various points for country houses in East Hampton. Between the four of them, there are five houses, though how professionals perpetually on vacation were able to accumulate enough capital to buy all these exotic getaways remains a mystery.

There are wall-to-wall gags in Town & Country, but the film resounds with the deadening, incessant thud of jokes thrown at a wall to see if they’ll stick. The proceedings just feel defeated and tired. Beatty has never looked more dissipated and craggy, as if the Dorian Gray effect of a lifetime playing opposite women half his age has finally caught up to him. And male vanity gone to seed can be just as pitiful as female beauty that still struggles for youth. Goldie Hawn looks wasted, and her shtick, of playing a sunny, dopey human question mark, no longer looks as charming on a woman of her age. Or maybe it’s just the withered, recycled, dejected jokes themselves that tend to make everyone look so old and weary. The stellar cast, no doubt assembled to distract from a script of dubious hilarity, instead resemble vaudevillians cluelessly dusting off their old routines for an audience that has moved on to newer, flashier entertainments.??