By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
The moral of Last Chance Harvey is that AARP members deserve cookie-cutter movie love, too. As long as they dutifully hew to cliches like having unusual jobs, meeting cutely, splitting tearfully and the ever-popular shopping spree montage with kicky background music.
Thank goodness it's old pros Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson doing the familiar dance of love, feet squarely planted on the shoe prints of too many romantic comedies to count. Their ages — he a spry 71, she pushing 50 — are the freshest things about Last Chance Harvey. The maturity factor and a brisk running time make Joel Hopkins' movie bearable.
Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, whose job as a commercial jingle composer is hanging by a piano wire. A new client believes his melodies are old-fashioned, and his boss (Richard Schiff) is glad to see Harvey heading to London for his estranged daughter's wedding. A plane crash in the Atlantic might make Harvey feel better.
Alas, he lands safely. Right out of the gate Harvey bumps into Kate Walker (Thompson), one of those airport survey takers that travelers try avoiding. Harvey rudely succeeds, but cinema serendipity is at work. They'll fatefully meet again, now with reason to banter, apologize and make a date. The more they learn about each other, the more Harvey wants to escort Kate to the wedding where he isn't wanted.
Despite some cliched back story, this is a good role for Hoffman, perhaps his last chance as a leading man. He celebrates the occasion by toning down the vocal tics that mark his showier character roles. It's a deep yet unaffected performance, cautiously steering through Harvey's self-inflicted parental problems while maybe falling in love. Some confessional scenes are written ham-handed by Hopkins, especially Harvey's TMI wedding reception toast, but Hoffman always rises above the page.
On the other hand, Thompson appears uncomfortable beyond Kate's problems, which include her live-in mother (Eileen Atkins) thinking the new neighbor is a murderer. Thompson's performance consists mostly of listening to malarkey and curtly brushing it off. Kate never wilts or blooms as much as Harvey, another fault of Hopkins' screenplay.
Eventually all those worry lines become smiles, after the obligatory third act misunderstanding gets talked out. Casting isn't the only thing old about this movie. Last Chance Harvey is merely an inferior addition to the list of menopausal romances usually starring Jack Nicholson and/or Diane Keaton. Hopkins' movie may as well be titled Something's Gotta Give As Good As It Gets.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.