A dip in New York City’s crime rate is great for tourism but lousy for a comedy predicated on the misadventures of Midwesterners lost in the Gotham jungle. The Out-of-Towners, an updated remake of the caffeinated 1970 comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis as the titular rubes, is missing (1) Neil Simon’s bing-bang-joke script, replaced by Forces of Nature writer Marc Lawrence’s soft-mock screenplay; (2) Arthur Hiller’s yeah-yeah-’70s-paced direction, traded in for George of the Jungle helmer Sam Weisman’s becalmed pleasantries; and (3) New York City as a Wild Wild East that punishes the meek and the middle-American, sending them fleeing back to the suburbs.
Other than that, the story’s the same: Husband and wife fly in from Ohio for his job interview, and outlandish disasters ensue, testing their ingenuity, their couple skills, and whatever fantasies they originally harbored about the city so nice they named it twice.
Of course, this Out-of-Towners is also missing Lemmon and Dennis, who brought a level of neurotic panic that perfectly fit the Nixonian times. Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn make smoother, more sophisticated, Clintonian visitors, elegantly groomed types who show no signs of rumpling even after a night spent sleeping in Central Park. (Hawn never musses her unnatural dewiness with blotchy emotion; Martin hides his fascinating orneriness under a mask of middle-aged equanimity.)
Against such wrinkle-resistant characters, John Cleese, in the all-new role of a supercilious hotel manager, stands out — like Basil Fawlty on duty at the Plaza Hotel. Cleese’s pompous snob sneers, he insults, he puts on women’s heels after hours. He’s the closest thing to the soul of New York City as it still occasionally flares up in Giuliani time. Alas, he’s as out of place as a peep show in the cleaned-up Times Square. In this Out-of-Towners, it’s the tourists who own the not-nearly-mean-enough streets. C-