The Austin Chronicle

That Old Feeling

Rated PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Carl Reiner. Starring Bette Midler, Dennis Farina, Paula Marshall, David Rasche, Danny Nucci.

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., April 4, 1997

Decrepit French sex-farce plotting, a raft of bitchy one-liners lightly sweetened with romantic whimsy, and wall-to-wall cleavage aren't much to build a movie around. Still, never underestimate Carl Reiner's ability to do a lot with a little. As with previous hits The Man With Two Brains and All of Me, Reiner locks onto a simple gag, in this case the sudden, volcanic resurgence of passion between a long-divorced couple (Midler and Farina), then milks it for all it's worth. And then some. The pleasures of this formulaic but highly diverting comedy flow mainly from strong casting and vigorous pacing that keeps one's analytical faculties from ever fully engaging. Midler is at her bawdy, estrogen-stoked best as Lilly Leonard, a prima donna actress dumped 15 years previously by writer spouse Dan DeMauro for a younger, surgically enhanced babe. But despite Lilly and Dan's remarriages and violent mutual antipathy, they discover at their daughter's wedding that de ole debil lust still stirs in their loins. Soon, to the horror and amazement of all, they're publicly carrying on like otters in rut. The resulting shock waves wreak havoc upon all three couples, creating bizarre strategic and sexual alliances, one of which turns out to be more than temporary. The jokes, courtesy of writer Leslie Dixon (Outrageous Fortune), are good, edgy, and plentiful, enabling stock characters such as the Ridiculous Cuckolded Husband (Rasche) and the Scheming Hussy Who Gets Hers in the End (O'Grady) to register more vividly than is usual in films of this type. Marshall, a 32-year-old journeywoman actress who seems to have been sniffing around the perimeter of success for ages, finally emerges as a memorable screen presence as Midler and Farina's sensible daughter facing doubts over her marriage to a pompous right-wing politician. Nucci, another veteran bit-part plugger, also makes the most of his role as a scruffy paparazzo who's made a career of stalking Lilly. Reiner's greatest contribution -- and this is by no means damning with faint praise -- is simply standing back and letting the actors go to work. Probably the best way to think of That Old Feeling is as a cool, tart glass of lemonade enjoyed on a warm spring day. An ephemeral pleasure and not all that nourishing, but well worth savoring for the moment.

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