'Book Club' fails to make good use of a stellar cast

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

Things turn raunchy – and a bit silly – when members of a book club decide to read 'Fifty Shades of Grey.'

Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures via AP
Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, and Jane Fonda star in 'Book Club.'

By all rights, shouldn’t a movie starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen be worth seeing? In theory, yes. “Book Club,” a deeply mediocre rom-com, sorely tests that theory. Having amassed such a stellar cast, might it not have behooved its director and co-writer Bill Holderman to concoct a movie halfway worthy of them?

Here's the cast of characters: Diane (Keaton), recently widowed, with two overly concerned daughters; Sharon (Bergen), a federal judge who has been divorced for 20 years; Carol (Steenburgen), whose love life with her recently retired husband (Craig T. Nelson) has cooled; and Vivian (Fonda), a Beverly Hills hotelier who revels in unattached sex.

The latest book assignment in the long-running book club of these longtime friends is “Fifty Shades of Grey.” While there is some dissension about this choice – one of them wonders, is it even a book? – reading it sets in motion a series of uninspired giggly-raunchy escapades. I suppose it’s a positive thing to have the oldsters in this movie actively pursuing sex rather than acting like the usual fusty Hollywood grannies, but watching these actresses carry on like randy dingbats isn’t exactly a triumph for feminism, especially since, for at least two of the women, apparently all that is needed to achieve pure happiness are a pair of deus ex machina dreamboats, both single – Mitchell (Andy Garcia), an airline pilot who also conveniently has riches to burn, and Arthur (Don Johnson) Vivian’s old flame from 40 years ago. (And, given that his daughter Dakota stars in the “Fifty Shades” movies, was it some kind of creepy in joke to cast Johnson in this film?)

Despite the movie’s resolute unfunniness, I did enjoy a few of Bergen’s caustic quips, and Steenburgen is touching in a scene in which Carol tries to tap dance away her sadness. That’s about it. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout and for language.)

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