My Fellow Americans
1996, PG-13, 102 min. Directed by Peter Segal. Starring Jack Lemmon, James Garner, Lauren Bacall, Dan Aykroyd, John Heard, Wilford Brimley.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Dec. 20, 1996
Here's more evidence -- as if the booming sales of those When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple books weren't enough -- that the ideal of “dignified old age” cuts little ice with today's seniors. All other artistic aims aside, My Fellow Americans is designed first and foremost as a truss-busting romp in which geriatric icons Lemmon, Bacall, and Garner can park their Master Thespian personas and have a little rude adolescent fun. The unapologetic silliness of this movie announces itself with an eye-rolling premise in which Lemmon and Garner are ex-presidents (and mortal political enemies) on the lam from rogue federal agents acting at the behest of evil forces directed by the current prez (Aykroyd). It's all a flimsy pretext to throw the two bickering old pols into a forced alliance and picaresque adventures involving lesbian bikers, Elvis imitators, illegal aliens, and sundry other heartland exotics. The political satire is often pretty sharp (lead screenwriter Peter Tolan won an Emmy for his work on TV's Murphy Brown), but it's of the calculatedly inoffensive “they're-all-bums/crooks/idiots” variety designed to unite the audience in mutual scorn of politicians rather than staking out any divisive partisan positions. In truth, the writing, acting, and direction all have a ragged, occasionally slapdash feel that may stem from director Segal's decision to keep the action fast and furious at all costs. Lemmon and Bacall (who plays his wife) have both done finer, more subtle work than this, and both visibly strain at times under the constant pressure to rollick. Still, they -- and all involved in this project -- seem to be having a hell of a good time. This is one of those movies where you often find yourself laughing as much in solidarity with its good feelings and intentions as in response to its bravura displays of wit and comedic flair. It's almost as enjoyable watching these august septuagenarians jumping from trains, cruising with Harley-riding dykes, and exchanging pubescent “screw-you/blow me” repartee as it must have been for them to do it. And fun, sometimes, is its own best rationale.