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'Tough Guys' (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 03, 1986

Move over Don Ameche.

Sexy and 70ish, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas strut their stuff as grey foxes in the giddy, gag-happy gangster spoof for golden-agers, "Tough Guys." These rough-and-tumblers seem to be drinking from that fountain of youth the seniors sought in "Cocoon."

Here they play a pair of gentlemanly train robbers who are culture-shocked when set free in decadent L.A. after 30 years in prison. They encounter yogurt, gay bars, new wave music and co-ed gyms, not to mention the sadder facts of life for senior citizens sentenced to second childhoods in old-age homes.

Lean and well-muscled, Douglas is the antithesis of over the hill. He's one hunky septuagenarian, showing off his powerful pecs as he pumps iron behind bars. Lancaster retains his masculine mystique less overtly, moving like a graceful leopard, eyes shining and suavity intact. These icons continue a 40-year association that includes "Gunfight at the OK Corral" and "Seven Days in May," but this is their first joint frolic. Caricaturing themselves without losing their dignity, they walk tall, clenching their teeth. They even perform their own stunts, running atop speeding trains and leaping from rooftops.

Naturally, the debonair ex-cons fail utterly at life on the outside. Douglas, fired from his job in a yogurt shop, asks, "What kind of business is that any way, selling bacteria to children?" Meanwhile, nursing-home resident Lancaster is disciplined because "you refused to eat your lunch and made love to a woman." Bewildered by what the world has come to, the old friends return to a life of crime. Ignoring their parole officer, the gentlemen bandits try to round up the old gang for a last caper. But the godfather wears a hearing aid, and his bodyguard has shrunk.

The "Tough Guys" story laments the decay of the spirit and body. But this is no maudlin sermon against forgetting our elderly -- it's a celebration of memories and a sendup of old-folks homes.

Sure, this script by James Orr and Jim Cruickshank is derivative -- it's got more than a little in common with that classic "The Grey Fox." And yes, it is hard to believe that a couple of sweethearts like these guys weren't paroled before 30 years passed. And yes, it's unlikely that a 20-year-old aerobics instructor (Darlanne Fluegel) would throw herself at a senior citizen no matter how beautifully preserved. But the heroes pull off the job.

The robbers outwit and out-hit a gang of dangerous urban brats and knock off an armored car and a high-powered locomotive. It's happily sophomoric stuff. And Jeff Kanew, the perpetual adolescent of "Revenge of the Nerds," is the ideal director for this screwball assault on the system.

"Guys" also features Dana Carvey as a sympathetic, hero-worshipping parole officer, with Eli Wallach in a show-stealing, side-splitting role as a near-sighted gunman in pursuit of the heroes. Charles Durning costars as the eternal detective, with elegant Alexis Smith joining Fluegel as a love interest.

"Tough Guys' " brash rough-housing is tempered by the graceful teamwork of Lancaster and Douglas -- the best thing to happen to senior citizens since Willard Scott started wishing centenarians happy birthday on the "Today" show.

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