They’re ancient, decrepit, toothless — not just weary but ready for the grave. Who, Oscar (Walter Matthau) and Felix (Jack Lemmon), the aging crank-case bachelors of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple II (Paramount)? No, I’m talking about Simon’s jokes. Shoved together after 17 years when they learn that their two children are getting married, the now-geriatric duo — who, you’ll be shocked to discover, haven’t changed a bit — drive in from the Los Angeles airport and are beset by a series of on-the-road catastrophes (smashed car, redneck bar, jail time, etc.). Simon doesn’t seem to realize that he’s rehashing every cliche from every tired buddy movie that ever starred someone like Martin Lawrence. Finally, the two are offered a lift by an elderly gent (Barnard Hughes) who drives his vintage Rolls-Royce too slow even for Miss Daisy. Simon drags out the gag to set up the payoff (surprise! — the old man expires). ”At least he went quickly!” says Felix, at which point Oscar growls his bring-down-the-house zinger: ”You call 12 miles an hour quickly?!” By the time he gets it out, we’re 1,200 miles ahead of that joke.
Here’s the dirty secret of The Odd Couple: It was far wittier as a sitcom than it ever was as a play or a hit movie. On television in the ’70s, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall had a bantering effervescence that enlivened the creaky ersatz-’50s cartoonishness of the roles — Oscar the slob/sportswriter/ gambler/horndog/grouch vs. Felix the neatnik/chef/ aesthete/neutered-male ”wife.” By comparison, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon are as slappy as vaudeville clowns, and the fact that Simon now has them cracking wise about fat calories and bladder control just makes the whole thing reek of desperation. Oscar and Felix were like two goitered old ninnies kvetching at each other in a retirement home even when they were middle-aged. Now that they’re literally grumpy old men, you just want them to shut up. F