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IN SHORT: Please don't go. [Rated PG-13, 91 minutes]
With the names of film legends Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall topping the card for the new film, Diamonds, it is very easy to disregard any concerns about age or health because, the word "legend" happens to legitimately apply to both actors. Several years ago, Kirk Douglas suffered a major stroke which left him without the ability to speak, and with great physical impairment. His recovery, such as it is, is remarkable. His physical movements are clean and smooth; there is no indication of a frail 83 year old in the body you see on screen. Spoken language is still a bit of a problem but the script by Allan Aaron Katz keeps the sentences, and the words therein, short.
It doesn't really matter. The creation of Diamonds is such a blatant ploy to get Kirk Douglas a well deserved Oscar that you're going to see a whole list of critics raving over Mr. Douglas' performance, all of whom will be screaming "Give the man an Oscar!"
Yeah. Give him a Life Achievement Academy Award. It's been well earned. Other than that, create a new category for "best performance in an individual scene in a movie that has no reason to exist" and give a pair of statues to Bacall and Douglas. Only in their one major scene together is there anything on screen recreating the star magic of old. There's a small coda at the end of the flick, but it's nothing special.
Diamonds is the story of three generations of men: Boxing Champion Harry "The Polish Prince" Agensky (Douglas), his estranged son Lance (Dan Aykroyd) and Lance's estranged son Michael (Corbin Allred). In a busted up convertible, Lance and Michael drive up to Canada to see the old man, who appears to be beginning the mental slippage prior to senility or Alzheimer's. Harry tells Michael an "old story" about 13 magic diamonds hidden in the walls of a house in Reno, Nevada. No one believes the story, but Michael convinces his dad that a road trip would be good. Gramps Last Stand, as it were. So the three men sneak out in the middle of the night and head for Reno. It is, by the way, the middle of the winter. The top of the convertible is down because it is broken. In short, Harry should have been dead of pneumonia in 24 hours, but that's not enough time to let the three generations bond.
Making it to Reno, the travelers discover that the house they seek has long since been demolished. So, they do the next best thing that three generations of men in Nevada can do. They head for the local chicken ranch run by a madam named Sin-Dee (Lauren Bacall). Lance is prudish. Michael is supposed to be fifteen (and this little fact is held back for an hour into the flick.) The actor in no way looks it, though he has the good taste to pick up the lovely Jenny McCarthy. Only the scenes with Douglas and Bacall, who last appeared in a film together back in 1950 (and never in the same scene) carries any kind of emotional weight to it.
So, Diamonds has been the talk of all the reviews in the private rooms for the last month or so. It's all been whispered talk because none of us want to say it. Diamonds, the film, is a royal stinker.
Let's start with the nice parts: There is some lovely screen chemistry between Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall. Getting there means enduring the first third of this flick, which is downright painful. The writing is terrible, the character set-ups are poor and sometimes vary from scene to scene. Story continuity is tossed to the winds and scenes with Jenny McCarthy run way too long, solely to keep any kidlets who paid to see her occupied.
The writing and story structure is a mess. The logic of the story -- driving a topless convertible in the middle of winter -- is abhorrent. The happy ending -- the "diamonds" are not what you think. A trick ending that I won't divulge can't save a film whose first third is so awful that non-critics were sneaking out of the room with heads hanging low. We all seemed to be of the same opinion; The preproduction process was rushed because it was necessary to get this film shot and wrapped before the star died. A finished film can get a nomination and Douglas, with a substantial and stellar career behind him, deserves a statue before he dies. But not for this.
I had promised the Miramax PR staff that, as long as the commercial campaign didn't push for an Oscar® for Douglas' role in this film, I would lay off. A Lifetime Achievement Oscar® is appropriate and should be awarded as soon as possible -- next March. But it would be cruel and transparent to award a performance Oscar® to Douglas in this film. If you haven't read the History of Cranky, don't you dare accuse me of having no sympathy for the battles Mr. Douglas has fought to overcome the paralysis of his stroke. Don't you dare.
And solely out of respect for an excellent career, we will not attach a numerical rating to this flick. There is nothing in it, save some inserted shots of a boxing Douglas in his prime (lifted from 1949's Champion, which you can rent) that can do anything but spoil the memory of a great actor's roles.
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