By Gregg Shapiro
Photo: Paramount Pictures
Have you ever started reading a book and within the first few pages you figured out everything you need to know about the characters as well as how it will end? That’s a fair description of the predictable and mildly amusing “Book Club” (Paramount). It’s the kind of “women of a certain age” flick that Nancy Meyers writes and direct (“It’s Complicated” and “Something’s Gotta Give”) with some degree of success. In this case, writer and co-director Bill Holderman is out of his league.
Four friends – Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), Carol (Mary Steenburgen) and Vivian (Jane Fonda) – have remained close during the 40-year existence of their book club. From Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” to Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”. Throughout their long friendship, they’ve seen each other through good and bad times. That includes Sharon’s rise to federal judge and enduring the end of her marriage to Tom (Ed Begley Jr.), Vivian becoming a prosperous hotelier while refusing to settle down with one person, Carol’s career as a successful chef even as her marriage falls like a souffle and Diane enduring the death of her husband.
The introduction of E.L. James’ trashy “Fifty Shades” trilogy to the book club ends up igniting an unexpected spark in each of the women with initially varying results. Sharon explores the possibility of meeting men via the Bumble online dating site. Carol, on the way to visiting her two overbearing daughters – Jill (Alicia Silverstone) and pregnant Adrianne (Katie Aselton ) — in Arizona has a “meet cute” moment (read: unintentional penis grab) with pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia). Carol, who is increasingly desperate to revive her marriage to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), will seemingly do anything to rev his engine, including spiking a beer with Viagra. Vivian, who has proudly never slept in the same bed with any of the men she’s had sex with, gets a big surprise when she reunites with ex-lover Arthur (Don Johnson), who is a guest at her hotel.
“Book Club” relies heavily on sight gags. The dressing room scene in which Sharon attempts to squeeze herself into Spanx or the entire Viagra sequence, for example. There is also plenty of unabashed product placement. “Book Club” attempts to balance more serious moments (those belong to Keaton, who earns them) with those that want to be more comedic but ends up falling flat.
When it comes to “Book Club”, you’ll be able to guess the happy endings before you reach the last page or the credits roll. Rating: D+