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"DIAMONDS"
(1999) (Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A proud, older man, a former boxing champion who's still coping with the aftereffects of a stroke, persuades his son and teenage grandson to take him to Reno in a quest to find some "magic diamonds" that he believes will enable him to stay out of a nursing home.
PLOT:
During his heyday, Harry Agensky (KIRK DOUGLAS) was once known as the "Polish Prince," the welterweight champion of the world. But that was many years ago, and Harry now finds himself living with his son, Moses (KURT FULLER), and daughter-in-law, Roseanne (JUNE CHADWICK), in their Canadian home. Harry has recently suffered a stroke, and despite a strong recovery and his dedication to his vocal therapy exercises, he fears that his family will soon put him into a nursing home.

Wanting to retain his independence, Harry often talks about some "magic diamonds" a Reno mobster named "Duff the Muff" left for him after throwing a fight. Of course his family thinks he's crazy, but he gets the chance to prove his sanity when Lance (DAN AYKROYD) his other divorced, newspaper columnist son, and eighteen-year-old grandson, Michael (CORBIN ALLRED), show up to take Harry on a weekend trip. Although they're reluctant to believe him, Lance and Michael, who get along with each about as well as Lance does with his stubborn father, finally agree to secretly drive Harry back to Reno in search of the diamonds.

During their travel, the three generations of Agensky men try to understand each other. Finally arriving in Reno and still searching for "Duff" and those diamonds, they make a pit stop at local brothel. There, Michael gets his first taste of sex with a buxom hooker by the name of Sugar (JENNY McCARTHY), while Harry meets the madam of the house, Sin-Dee (LAUREN BACALL), an older woman who sympathizes with him. As the grandfather, father and son continue on their quest, they begin to understand and better appreciate each other.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Over time, many things have been said about nature's gift to the jewelry industry, the diamond. Marilyn Monroe sang that they were a girl's best friend (which they still are), while a certain James Bond film, not to mention those many jewelry stores, stated and continue to state that they're forever. Whatever the well-known praises they may elicit, one thing's certain about those highly polished lumps of coal - they never lose their value or luster with time and/or repeated viewings.

The same can be said about legendary screen performers Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall who team up -- for the first time in five decades - to form a diamond in the rough duo of sorts in this week's release of "Diamonds." A multi-generational road movie about father-son relationships, the film shines due to the presence of Douglas and Bacall, but otherwise is a wooden and somewhat sappy experience.

As directed by John Asher (with the little seen films "Kounterfeit" and "Chick Flick" to his credit) who works from a script by Allan Aaron Katz (making his feature writing debut), the film features some of the most stilted and obvious dialogue to hit the big screen - at least in a non-"B" movie - in some time.

Emotions and motivations are clearly and obviously worn on most of the characters' sleeves, with everything being too on the nose and/or artificial sounding. The resulting overall effect not only stymies the film at almost any point any character opens his or her mouth, but it also continuously gives off the equivalent feel of a screenwriting class project where subtlety has yet to be learned, let alone applied.

To be fair, the film does have its share of decent moments (particularly late in the proceedings when Douglas and Bacall finally get together) and does have its heart and overall familial theme in the right place. It's just unfortunate that it's delivered in such a mawkish package.

The filmmakers have also followed the old saying about it not being the destination that's important, but the journey of getting there. As such, they have focused more on the road trip shenanigans and emotional reactions to spending time together than the actual overall plot of the threesome trying to find the "magic diamonds."

While that's not an inherently bad thing if such substitutions are worthy of the viewer's attention, but unfortunately for most of the proceedings here they're not. While the diamond search element does guide the threesome from one sequence to the next, few of the resulting moments are particularly noteworthy or entertaining. In particular, a scene where the three men are stopped and searched at a Canadian/U.S. border crossing is painfully humorless.

The film then takes a seriously bad detour with an extremely long sequence at a Reno brothel. While it's obviously designed to give the film some presumed cross-generational appeal - pertaining to the varied reactions and subsequent experiences of the three generations of Agensky men in the hands of some hookers - most viewers will probably get the uneasy impression that the film reels have been changed with a bad "American Pie/Porky's" rip-off.

Other than Bacall's initial reaction to the family men showing up together and her later interaction with Douglas at the tail end of the sequence, it's long, not particularly funny, and certainly feels out of place with the rest of what the film offers. In fact, if not for Douglas and Bacall, the film would be instantly forgettable.

Yet it does greatly benefit from their appearances, especially from the legendary Kirk Douglas who's appeared in more than eighty films ranging from "Spartacus" to his Oscar nominated role in "The Champion." In a move reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh inserting old footage of Terence Stamp from 1967's "Poor Cow" into his 1999 film, "The Limey," the filmmakers here clipped scenes of Douglas from his 1949 boxing picture and used them as flashbacks here.

While he's not playing the same character as did Stamp in both films, the effect is dramatic as it contrasts Douglas as a young, virile man with the effects that time and a real-life stroke haven taken on the actor. Of course, some might playfully joke that the veteran performer took the method acting approach a bit too seriously (since who better to play a recovering stroke victim than the real thing). He certainly delivers a heartfelt performance, but it's just too bad that he's saddled with dialogue that's not up to par with his status/legend.

Although she has a small part, Lauren Bacall ("The Mirror Has Two Faces," "Key Largo") is good as the older and wise madam. The "gee, we've gotten old/where has time gone" moment between her and Douglas' character is quite simply the best the film has to offer.

As Harry's initially cautious adult son, Dan Aykroyd (the "Ghostbusters" and "Blue Brothers" films) delivers an okay performance that's more in line with his work in films such as "Driving Miss Daisy" than "Coneheads," but he's obviously deep in the shadow of his far more famous and experienced costar. Corbin Allred ("Anywhere But Here," "Robin Hood: Men in Tights") is okay in his role but comes off as not much more than a typical, and thus unforgettable Hollywood teenager, while Jenny McCarthy ("Scream 3," "BASEketball") plays the standard hooker with an understanding heart of gold.

While the film has its moments, it's too bad that the lackluster and often awkward script doesn't match the caliber of the two screen legends who manage to shine despite it. Although some viewers might not mind its inherent problems, many will probably join yours truly in wishing that the stars had something better in which to appear. If not for the presence of Douglas and Bacall, the film would rate much lower, but seeing them back on the big screen counters some of the otherwise unpleasant moments. As such, we give "Diamonds" a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 14, 2000 / Posted February 18, 2000


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