Never Too Late is a retirement-home comedy starring Jack Thompson, James Crowell and Jacki Weaver

Never Too Late (M, 98 minutes)

2 stars

Mainstream films about and aimed at older people aren't all that common in the regular stream of franchises, sequels and lowbrow comedies But experience has shown that there's an audience for such films. The late lamented Manuka cinema attracted a regular audience up to its demise whenever it featured a movie starring the likes of Judi Dench, Helen Mirren or Maggie Smith.

A scene from Never Too Late. Picture: Bradley Patrick

A scene from Never Too Late. Picture: Bradley Patrick

Never Too Late is closer to Grumpy Old Men. It's an Australian comedy with several veteran actors playing Vietnam War veterans . While the film has its occasional amusing and touching moments, the cast - young as well as old - is the best thing about it. The actors deserved better material from writers Luke Preston (screenplay) and Grant Carter (story), making their feature film debuts. Director Mark Lamprell (whose previous work includes the lowbrow comedy A Few Less Men) lines up some impressive shots but technique can't overcome the flaws and unevenness of the material.

Most of the film takes place at Hogan Hills, an Adelaide retirement home for military veterans. Among the residents are a foursome who gained legendary status as the Chain Breakers - they were special forces men who escaped from a Viet Cong prisoner of war camp. But that was a long time ago and their lives since then have been full of disappointments and regrets that weigh heavily on them.

Now Jack Bronson (James Cromwell) is planning another escape. He didn't take the opportunity to marry his sweetheart Norma (Jacki Weaver) before he shipped out to Vietnam and wants to remedy this before she forgets him: she's in the early stages of dementia. Jack's old comrades have their own reasons for wanting to make a break. Angus (Aussie legend Jack Thompson) is also suffering from dementia - played more for cheap laughs than poignancy - and wants to see the Brownlow Medal he earned but had to forfeit. Jeremiah (Dennis Waterman), who hasn't long to live, wants to sail off for the last time on his beloved boat, and wheelchair-bound James (Roy Billing), who spent many years in prison for bank robbery, wants to reconnect with his estranged adult son.

Max Cullen is wasted in the underwritten role of another resident who was part of the World War II Great Escape.

In the casting, the filmmakers, as so often happens with Australian movies, seem obviously to be trying to attract an international audience. But while the American Cromwell (Babe)and British Waterman (Minder) are fine actors and do well enough here, their presence seems designed with an eye towards the US and British box office rather being particularly justified dramatically.

Even when their dialogue and situations are uninspired, the lead foursome do work well together - scheming, joking and squabbling. However, one big blowout that puts their escape in jeopardy seems utterly contrived. It's not the only such moment in the film.

Even when their dialogue and situations are uninspired, the lead foursome do work well together - scheming, joking and squabbling

One notable aspect of the film is its smooth integration of Asian-Australian actors - something that shouldn't be remarkable but still is. Lonely teenager Elliott (Zachary Wan), whose mother works at the home, becomes involved in the men's scheme, helping them to evade the staff, especially Lin (Renee Lim) the stern boss.

If you like the actors, can go with the unlikely aspects, and want an undemanding comedy with the odd poignant moment, this might hit the spot. One odd thing: some swear words are beeped out. It's not clear if this is meant to be a lame joke, or a belated censorship issue. Surely they could have done some dubbing?

This story Veteran actors lift so-so comedy first appeared on The Canberra Times.