"BOOK CLUB" IS NO PAGE TURNER
From left, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen combine their auspicious talents to make an empty movie.

Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen play characters who are lifelong friends now in their 60s and beyond. It has been many years since any of their sex lives held much romance. But then, in their weekly book club together, just for fun they all read and discuss the hot novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.” That's when everything changes for all of them.

If you think this sounds like a good concept for a movie, you are in the right demographic for “Book Club.” It would probably be worth a sidebar documentary to discover how these four fine actors, each with a quality career, got  hornswoggled into signing contracts to be in this picture.

Directed by Bill Holderman and co-written with Erin Simms, “Book Club” is a flatly unimaginative fantasy of upscale life for people convinced that being wealthy is all it takes to be happy. Everything is so simple. If this adventure in Rom-Com land had an alcohol rating it would be 3.2 per cent.

While the story is generally set among wealthy Los Angeles people with beautiful homes, there are also lengthy episodes in Scottsdale and Sedona. Every place they go is worthy of a magazine cover for Western Living.

As you might imagine, Fonda plays the brassy, bossy one too independent to do anything really stupid like fall in love. She is Vivian the self-made woman who owns her own hotel and has always been single...as well as anorexic.

Bergen as Sharon is by far the most sympathetic, with a steely eye to cut through all the nonsense in people's lives, thanks to her rewarding career as a federal judge. Unfortunately, she didn't realize her forever-husband was about to run off with a much younger woman. Now she has  retired and life is, well,,,,empty.

Keaton, recent Tucson home buyer though she may be, is the biggest disappointment. She plays fading Diane, a widow whose fashion sense hasn't evolved past Annie Hall and whose personal future is bleak. Her two grown and happily married daughters both live in Scottsdale, insisting Diane forget about her own life and come live with them.

Steenburgen as Carol is the most bouncy. She still has her husband and also a very successful business as a Los Angeles caterer to the stars. But their marriage is barely functioning no matter how hard she tries to get him interested in...anything.

The cast does include a few men. They all play secondary roles, never making any impact. They are Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn.

So there you have it. Everything about this project plays it so safe. Sitting there watching, it is easy to imagine how the whole thing happens before it happens as this quartet of rich but befuddled seniors works its way to four happy endings.




MELISSA MCCARTHY GOES BACK TO COLLEGE IN "LIFE OF THE PARTY"
Biking around campus is a whole new experience for this joyful middle-aged student.

Melissa McCarthy has answered this season's question of what movie to take your mom to on Mother's Day – or any other day that's available.

Good-natured and ever-sunny McCarthy is playing the determined and freshly separated mom Deanna who sacrificed her own dreams of graduating from college after three years of backbreaking book cracking in order to make a loving home for her husband (who did graduate) and their daughter Maddie.

This conflict gets set up quicker than you can say “student loan” when Deanna's husband Dan (Matt Walsh) dumps her in the opening scene of “Life of the Party.”

Deanna is crushed. Having just packed Maddie (Molly Gordon) off to her senior year at Decatur University, Deanna doesn't even have time to go through the Empty Nest Syndrome. She's already become a victim of the Trophy Wife Upgrade.

That ungrateful milquetoast of matrimony Dan is now hot for Marcie (Julie Bowen) the sexiest high fashion real estate agent in the city.

Visually, Marcie is far superior to the shorter and more compact, albeit more bouncy, Deanna. But once Maddie recovers from the shock of her mom enrolling as a senior at the same college Maddie attends, Deanna is due for a dramatic daughter-mother makeover.

McCarthy's own husband, director and co-writer Ben Falcone, has surrounded Deanna and Maddie with a half-dozen very supportive college sorority sisters, and for contrast, gives Deanna a pale and terminally depressed goth roommate who considers sunlight her enemy.

As raunchy college comedies go, “Life of the Party” is way more sweet than racy. These college girls want to have fun, but don't want to get any bad marks on their permanent school records.

Deanna does have a healthy sex drive, that gets established right away. Sure she feels uncomfortable at first, thinking about doing it with some guy, Jack (Luke Benward), who is the same age as her daughter. But the guy is cute, has great manners and no tattoos.

Mother Nature quickly steps in to make her own demands. Deanna, after all, does have all those years of actual sexual experience.

Just try not to think what the Protectors of Our Nation's Morals would say if a middle-aged man wanted to hit on a female college student... So we quickly discover that the campus library's book stacks still have a romantic appeal for today's generation.

Signing up to take on the supporting villain role is the standard snooty clique of cute blonds out to ruin everything for Deanna's senior year. We also get to attend a couple of campus parties that involve a student with a medical marijuana card.

But not to worry moms and college students taking their moms to the multiplex, all will be amusing. This movie doesn't have a mean-spirited bone in its body.