The 1980 screwball comedy "Seems Like Old Times" was the second pairing of Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn, after their successful collaboration in "Foul Play" a couple of years earlier. I've always been disappointed that the two stars did not make more films together, they're both so likable people and their chemistry so right. "Seems Like Old Times" may not be the laugh riot of the century or even the most original story around, but it's got a gentle charisma that's hard to resist.
Written by old pro Neil Simon and directed by television sitcom expert Jay Sandrich ("Get Smart," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Golden Girls," "The Cosby Show"), the movie puts Chase and Hawn into familiar territory, that of bickering foes in a romantic-comedy farce. It hasn't the silly yet imaginative touches or the mystery-suspense spoofery of "Foul Play," but "Old Times" holds its own particular delights in the sharp repartee of its two leads and the colorful diversity of its supporting cast. It's a film with little substance but loads of charm.
Chase plays Nick Gardenia, a writer living in an isolated cabin in Big Sur, along the California coast just south of Carmel. He's happily plugging away on a book one day when a pair of gunman knock on his door, take him hostage, and force him to rob a bank for them. Wouldn't you know it, he gets his face filmed on a security camera, and half the police in the state go out after him. The real villains discard him after the robbery, literally throwing him out of the getaway car. With no one else he can think of to turn to, he heads for his ex-wife's house, where he hides out without permission. The ex, Glenda (Hawn), is a lawyer now married to the District Attorney of Los Angeles County, Ira Parks (Charles Grodin), a D.A. who has just been pegged by the Governor for the position of State Attorney General. Just what Ira needs at this point is for the public to know that the prospective Attorney General's wife's former husband is wanted for bank robbery!
Chase plays Nick as an overgrown kid, a wiseacre whom Glenda says never grew up. But it's a role tailor-made for Chase. He gets to deadpan his lines in his typically droll, nonchalant manner, and it's his laid-back attitude and quick rejoinders that pretty much carry the picture. Hawn, on the other hand, is relatively subdued playing the soft-hearted, soft-touch lawyer who gives most of her hard-luck clients jobs around her own house. Grodin is superb as the perpetually exasperated husband, worried not only about his image but about whether his wife may still be in love with Nick. Naturally, Nick IS still in love with Glenda, but Glenda insists the battery went dead on that relationship a long time before. It remains to be seen.
No screwball comedy would be complete without a roster of zany supporting characters, and "Seems Like Old Times" has them aplenty. Yvonne Wilder plays Aurora De La Hoya, the Parks' cranky, self-willed cook. T.K. Carter plays Chester, a thief Glenda is trying to reform by hiring as her personal chauffeur. Robert Guillaume plays Fred, Ira's straightlaced law partner. Harold Gould plays Judge John Channing, the frazzled justice who has to hear Glenda's cases. George Grizzard plays Stanley, the Governor of California, who comes to dinner at the Parks and lives to regret it. And, finally, there are about 800 stray dogs that Glenda has brought into the house to look after, and which inadvertently save the day in the film's climax.
Most of the action is confined to the Parks' house, attributable, no doubt, to Simon's stage-writing proclivity. The film could have benefited from being opened up a bit more, perhaps, but it's basically a play of words so the stagey sets aren't a hindrance. Simon's one-liners are the real stars of the show: "Can you make it up the stairs?" Glenda asks a much-bruised Nick. "Any chance of sending them down?" he replies. When Nick won't leave, even turning up under Glenda and Ira's bed, Glenda says, "He's like a termite; he gets into the wood."
Columbia TriStar offer the film in two formats, full screen and widescreen. This seems to be a trend lately, returning to the early days of DVD. I applaud the studios providing the viewer more choice, but I hope it doesn't turn out simply to be a concession to the big Blockbuster chain of video stores that I understand is unhappy about trying to rent and sell widescreen pictures. Anyway, it turns out in this instance that there is very little difference between the two formats. The widescreen version measures a 1.74:1 anamorphic ratio across a normal television, while the full-screen version adds a small amount of information to the top and/or bottom and cuts out a fraction at the sides. It's a toss-up which of them is better, although on principle alone I always go with the widescreen edition because I figure it's closer to what was originally shown in a motion picture theater. The image quality, in any case, is only so-so, somewhat soft, slightly blurred, and sometimes rough around the edges. Minor instances of grain and line fluctuation are also present on occasion, but they are minimal problems.
The sound is offered up in old-fashioned, straightforward monaural, which is just fine since the movie is 99% dialogue, anyhow, and the other 1% is a Marvin Hamlisch musical score. The actual audio quality is a bit on the sharp, nasal side, but it's more than adequate for understanding what folks on screen are saying.
The disc's biggest disappointment is its lack of extras. English is the only spoken language aboard, with English and French subtitles, twenty-eight scene selections, and a pair of theatrical trailers. The first trailer is for "Seems Like Old Times," and it's in pan-and-scan. The second trailer is for another Chevy Chase film, "Cops and Robbersons," and it, at least, is in widescreen. Still and all, these are meager pickings for a release from a major studio.
Be that as it may, I continue to say the film's the thing, and "Seems Like Old Times" is a worthy, if gentle, entry in the comedy genre. The title, of course, refers to the couple's previous marriage together, but it also suggests the movie's affinity with the old-time comedies of the thirties and forties, where the hero and heroine were quite different in social background; where a crowd of amusing supporting characters always seemed on the verge of upstaging the leads; where highly unlikely circumstances extended to equally unlikely actions; and where clever, fast, wisecracking dialogue was the norm. Then, too, the title refers back to Chase and Hawn's previous film together, "Foul Play," but that may escape the notice of many of today's younger viewers.
In any case, "Seems Like Old Times" is balmy, lightweight fare that's inoffensive and easy to digest. It's a pleasant antidote for much of the raunchy material that passes for humor these days.