Movie Review: The Ladies Who Read Return, “The Book Club: The Next Chapter”

When one refers to the sequel “The Book Club: The Next Chapter” as “creaky but charming,” one must hasten to add that one is referring to the groaner laughs, gear-grinding situations and dated plot, and not the engaging ladies of a certain age who star in it.

One must.

Oscar winners Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton and Emmy winning legend Candace Bergen deserve our respect, and deserve better than this winded farce that takes our LA bookclubbers through COVID lockdown and over to Italy for a last hurrah, a bachelorette party and a bit of almost-amusing mischief in Rome, Venice and Tuscany.

The ladies who read have been maintaining their club via Zoom all the way through COVID, and just as they’re polishing off “The Alchemist,” New York transplant Vivian (Fonda) lets them know that at long last she’s ready to that walk down the aisle with her hunky beau Arthur (Don Johnson).

“In another 50 years, I might not find him as attractive as I do now!”

Diane (Keaton) is still with Mitchell (Andy Garcia), and fretting that “I’m too OLD to be somebody’s girlfriend!” Carol (Steenburgen) had to give up her restaurant, thanks to COVID. And her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) has just had a nasty health scare.

Semi-retired judge Sharon (Bergen) is still alone, still sarcastic and still a stick in the mud.

But even though not all of them are on board, the idea of “one last fling,” reviving plans for a long-postponed group trip, sends them off to sunny Italy to celebrate the end of isolation and the end to Vivian’s lifelong single status.

Blunders pile up. They run afoul of Italian law enforcement (Giancarlo Giannini) and into new flames (Hugh Quarshie) and old ones (Vincent Riota). Sightseeing, a motorboat makeout session in Venice (nudge nudge wink wink), jail, a fabulous meal or two and a few double entendres ensue. “Hilarity” does not.

The jokes are of the “Everything is sexier in Italy,” variety, affording plenty of chances for Bergen to trot out her sitcom timing. “I know I am.”

Our core quartet are a well-preserved and still charming lot, with each giving a glimpse of their comic specialties. But like that spring fling, “80 for Brady,” the material here just isn’t up to the legends being paid to perform it.

Rating: PG-13, profanity, “suggestive material.”

Cast: Jane Fonda, Candace Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia, Hugh Quarshie, Craig T. Nelson, Vincent Riota, Giancarlo Giannini and Don Johnson.

Credits: Directec by Bill Holderman, scripted by Bill Holderman and Erin Sims. A Focus Features release.

Running time: 1:47


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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