London Suite

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Director: Jay Sandrich
Screenwriter: Neil Simon
Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Kelsey Grammer, Madeleine Kahn, Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Release details: US TVM 1996, 94mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Comedy
Rating: 3 out of 10

Neil Simon was one of the most successful playwrights of the 1960s and 1970s, with a run of hitsincluding Barefoot in the Park, the Odd Couple and California Suite, all of which were made into movies. And fine movies they were, too. No less an august body than the American Film Institute reckoned that The Odd Couple was the 18th funniest American comedy of all-time.

California Suite will never be as well though of as that, but it's an intelligent, downright funny look at marriage through the eyes of several couples staying in one Beverly Hills hotel over Oscar weekend. There seems no discernable reason why anyone would think - 20 years later - that there was even mild interest in a sequel, but Neil Simon penned this TV movie follow-up nonetheless. Maybe he was having a slow week or needed some quick cash.

The only characters carried over from California are actress Diana (indie favourite Clarkson, pictured) and antiques dealer Sidney (Grammer), originally essayed by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. Although Grammer and Clarkson don't have the acidic touch of the original twosome, that's the fault of the script, not the actors. In fact, it's a testament to their acting abilities that this is the only storyline which even remotely holds your attention, as both easily convey the tenderness between the mis-matched spouses which was so evident in the first film.

While the original featured some of the best 1970s acting and comedy talent, the TV movie version features faces familiar from sitcoms. Both Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Seinfeld are featured, the former as an anal-retentive tennis fan who puts his back out and the latter as a newly-wed who's lost her husband, in the "can't find him" sense. Neither raise so much as a smile. Louis-Dreyfus, in fact, offers a performance of such woeful inadequacy and skin-crawling ineptitude that I was moved to scream "Shut up, Julia" at the television every time she appeared. I'm not a Seinfeld fan, so I'm not familiar with her work, but if this film is indicative of its quality, then how she still manages to work in acting, never mind in comedy, is beyond me.

As a Scot, I was particularly offended by the quality of inexplicable "Scottish" accents on display. Although he is by far the worst offender - sounding like Cardiff meets Bombay - I can almost understand why Richard Mulligan's character is a Scotsman. But the hotel's assistant manager and doctor are nominally Scottish, too. In a London hotel, where was the need for this? Paxton Whitehead is a comedic actor of some gift, who can offer a flawless English accent (what with his being English and all), but my native tongue is not his friend. And saddling him with the name Dr McMerlin just so that you can crowbar in the line "He really is a magician, you know" is not funny in any way shape or form. Ever.

I don't want to blame Simon entirely for the dog's dinner that London Suite turns out to be, although there's no denying that it's one of his weaker efforts. Filling the cast with sitcom stars and putting it in the hands of a safe sitcom veteran like director Sandrich hardly gave the film a chance to transcend the genre. Yet even the humble sitcom can be inspired - think of Fawlty Towers or Larry Sanders - but this film is more of a Married...With Children. It makes the 1980s TV series Hotel seem like Shakespeare in comparison. It's dull, predictable, insipid. If this film was a colour, it would be taupe. If it was a dessert, it would be tapioca.

Only Clarkson, Grammer and the late Madeleine Kahn, as a widow finding love second time around, can walk away from this wreck with any modicum of dignity intact. This film gets one point for each of them.

Buy it

This film is not available in the US or UK, but can be caught on bad cable/satellite channels such as Hallmark or Lifetime.

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