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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Don't call me 'boss.' Haven't you seen Roots?"
DVD ReviewIt's a bit surprising, when looking at his body of work, to realize that Neil Simon is one of the best known, most performed playwrights of the 20th century. Although he can write great dialogue, his plays usually stick closely to familiar formula and sitcom conventions. Perhaps, of course, it was his writing that helped to create those conventions. But that doesn't change the fact that, years later, many of his works seem rather tired and, well, conventional.
By all accounts, Seems Like Old Times should fall into this camp. The plot is pure Three's Company, full of broad, sometimes ridiculous humor. But it works, thanks mostly to some very funny performances from a few gifted physical comedians and Simon's sharp wit, which refuses to date here, despite sometimes dated setups.
Nick (Chevy Chase) is minding his own business, working at home, when an armed duo shows up at his door, demanding that he act as the patsy in a robbery. Nick does what they tell him—he walks into the bank and hands the teller a note with instructions. "What should I do?" she asks. Nick: "I don't know, let's look...'Stick up, put all your money in the bag, one more sound and you're dead.' Bless you." Unfortunately, on his way out he's captured on the security cameras and later, dumped by the robbers, now a wanted man. As fate would have it (fate is always having things in Neil Simon comedies), Nick's ex-wife Glenda (Goldie Hawn), a defense lawyer, is married to Ira, the D.A. with ambitions to be Attorney General. Soon enough, Nick has gone to her for help and she must try to hide him from her husband, who is eager to put a criminal in jail and look good to the governor. And, as they say, hi-jinks ensue.
There's a particular scene that is so familiar, it shouldn't be funny, and in fact, it doesn't feature much in the way of dialogue, so the credit can't go to Neil Simon either. Nick is trapped underneath a bed, waiting for Glenda and Ira to leave the room. As Glenda becomes more and more flustered trying to get Ira to leave, he ends up stomping on Nick's wandering pinky, pinning his hand to the floor. For the next, say, 30 seconds, the camera focuses only on Nick's hands as he makes various attempts to express intense pain and to free his smooshed digit. It's very funny because Chevy Chase is a very funny physical comedian. He captures Nick's aloof wit as well, but the actor who really sells Simon's dialogue is Goldie Hawn, here brilliantly neurotic as the harried Glenda. The best scenes involve her running back and forth between her husband and ex-husband, trying frantically to keep them apart.
While the basic premise is rather routine, Simon's script adds a lot of neat little touches. Glenda has a soft spot for hard luck cases, you see, and the cast is filled out with her various clients, people she has defended and subsequently hired. I probably could have done without the stereotyped Ray Jay-esque black chauffeur, but the rest of the supporting case, including the also stereotypical—but still humorous—rude ethnic maid, is very funny. Glenda also has a soft spot for animals, it seems, as she had six dogs and a cat, and the scenes of the tiny little dog running around frantically cracked me up to no end.
Perhaps it's good that the film sticks so close to conventions, as director Jay Sandrich, a TV veteran, rarely moves past the scope of a typical sitcom in his staging or pacing (sometimes the characters almost seem to pause for the laugh track). But old sitcoms can still be funny, and though it would surely collapse under too much scrutiny, this one certainly still is.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Seems Like Old Times looks pretty good for a film of its age. Though the image shows some grain, it actually lends a nice, film-like quality. Colors look fairly strong. Black level is only fair, with some nice scenes suffering from a lack of detail. I noticed quite a bit of aliasing in early scenes, but it cleared up quickly. A full-screen transfer is also offered on the same side of the disc.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The sound is presented in the original mono, which results in a restricted but perfectly acceptable sounding mix. Dialogue is always clear, and never has to fight the score for dominance. There aren't a lot of sound effects to contend with, but when they do pop up, they sound a bit tinny, lacking fidelity in the low end, but it rarely becomes an issue. Many appreciate remixes of mono tracks, but as this was the original format, I can't complain.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cops and Robbersons
Extras Review: Sole extras are the theatrical trailer and another for the Chevy Chase/Dianne Wiest comedy Cops and Robbersons. Special note to Columbia TriStar: please fire whoever is doing your DVD cover art, then rehire them and fire them again. Please.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsSeems Like Old Times is appropriately titled, anyway. It's an old-fashioned screwball comedy, and Neil Simon's script is a lot of fun. Columbia TriStar's DVD is bare bones, but the audio and video is nice enough to recommend a purchase to fans of Chevy, Goldie, or wackiness.
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