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Why does the movie Just Getting Started exist? Having seen this ghastly comedy, I can’t for a moment divine why anyone involved thought making this movie was a good idea. The jokes are creaky and unfunny; the story is past its sell by date and the direction is clumsy, bordering on amateurish? What type of blackmail was required to draw Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones to appear in this film? What kind of blackmail was required to get movie theaters to make space for this movie in the same month in which Star Wars The Last Jedi is being released?
Just Getting Started stars Morgan Freeman as Duke, the manager of a high end retirement home in Palm Springs. Duke is living the high life with numerous elderly girlfriends, a loyal coterie of cronies and a seemingly endless pile of cash that he takes out of the company till. But that isn’t even Duke’s biggest secret. He’s also a former mob lawyer who was installed at the retirement home as a cover for his witness protection.
Duke’s idyllic lie is interrupted by the arrival of Leo (Tommy Lee Jones). Leo moves in to the retirement community and immediately takes the attention of Duke’s lady friends. Then, he takes all of Duke’s ill-gotten cash in Duke’s weekly underground poker game. Leo even takes Duke on the golf course, though to be fair, their showdown was cut short by a cobra hidden in Duke’s bag. It appears that Duke’s secret has been uncovered and someone is trying to kill him and make it look like an accident.
Now you might think from my straightforward description that Leo’s appearance in the retirement community would not be coincidental to Duke’s being found by the mob but you would be wrong. I know, it seems like the perfect set up to perhaps have Jones be the hitman and the two battling wits perhaps? Nope! Or maybe Leo would be an undercover agent sent to infiltrate the home and keep Duke from getting wacked, but nope!
Just Getting Started is so witless and ill-conceived that the screenwriter didn’t even bother trying to connect Leo to the main plot of the film so instead we get two bad comedies in one. In one of the bad comedies, Morgan Freeman is on the run from the mob and in the other he’s having an old man pissing contest with Jones over who will be king of the retirement home and have the privilege to date Rene Russo who gets shunted into the plot as another character unconnected to the main two plots, aside from being Leo and Duke prize. UGH!
Are you ready for more sadness? Just Getting Started is the first film directed by Ron Shelton since 2003. Ron Shelton, for the near generation of people born since he last worked and, the full generation since he was relevant, was the director of Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump and Tin Cup. I will grant you, it’s far from an Oscar-worthy resume but he was always competent and he had a romantic quality to his movies that shined through, even in his lesser work.
The Ron Shelton who directed Just Getting Started is feeble and sad. For some reason, Shelton decided to shoot this standard issue comedy using a clumsy handheld camera that rarely stops shaking, as if an elderly aunt were shooting the film as a home video to take back to Florida after the holidays. The film appears to have been edited at random as well, with plots and character motivations and comic premises arriving, thudding to the ground and the scenes just sort of petering out.
It’s shocking to know that a veteran like Shelton directed this film. I am aware that his last few films were lesser efforts like Hollywood Homicide and Play it to the Bone, but he wasn’t incompetent in those films. The hallmark of Just Getting Started is incompetence. Directing may not appear to be a skill that can diminish over time, what with Martin Scorsese and others still working at the height of their powers in old age, but Ron Shelton appears to make the case with Just Getting Started that indeed, directing is a skill that is vulnerable to father time in the same way your dad loves playing golf but doesn’t play very well now that he’s in his 70’s.
I feel bad saying all of this and it’s probably impolite to point it out, but it’s honest, Just Getting Started is embarrassing for all involved. Several fine actors and one formerly pretty good director have committed some of their worst work to the screen in Just Getting Started. There is a scene in this film in which Rene Russo is on the phone arguing about something related to her job, honestly, it’s almost indecipherable what is happening in this scene because the editing and direction is so incompetent. I mention it here, because it’s a scene that takes a very good actress in Russo and renders her an amateur, a screeching, fumbling amateur. That’s how bad Just Getting Started is.
The kindest thing you can do for all involved in Just Getting Started is not go to see it. Trust me, the commercial failure of Just Getting Started will be less humiliating to these beloved Hollywood lifers than you actually watching this movie.