Thursday, October 22, 2020

On the Rocks, Very Definitely Starring Bill Murray

The neighborhoods are mostly Tribeca and the Meatpacking District instead of the Upper Eastside, but the vibe is Woody Allen all the way. Nature abhors a vacuum, even one created by hypocritical wokeness, so apparently Sophia Coppola is jockeying to become the next leading chronicler of neurotic City residents. It is a good thing too, because we have plenty of neuroses. Yet, rather logically, it is the defiantly politically incorrect character who gets all the laughs in Coppola’s On the Rocks, which premieres on Apple TV tomorrow.

The main reason anyone cares about
On the Rocks is Bill Murray, who previously starred in Coppola’s breakout hit, Lost in Translation. He provides the comedy and everything else interesting playing Felix King, a roguish Manhattan art dealer. Like everyone else, Laura forgives his shortcomings, because of his charm, even though he was unfaithful to her mother. Unfortunately, that makes him the best or maybe worst person to ask when she starts to suspect her husband Dean is having an affair with a work colleague.

Naturally, old man Felix immediately concludes where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Laura tries to dismiss his warnings as the projections of a serial philanderer, but he makes a convincing case, as the weird circumstances of Dean’s constant business travel keep piling up. Soon, she and her dad start tailing Dean around Lower Manhattan late-night hotspots, giving them (or at least Felix) plenty of opportunities to imbibe cocktails.

That is basically the gist of it, but it is often funny, thanks to Murray’s vermouth-dry wise-cracking. Frankly, the film is at its best when it just sets up his riffing. Still, Murray develops a down-to-earth, believable rapport with Rashida Jones’ Laura. (Many viewers will be tempted to read a biographical dimension into her performance, given her father Quincy Jones’ reputation as a ladies man, just like we’re often tempted to read things into Woody Allen movies.)

There are a couple of nice scenes in which Felix and Laura have it out and maybe come to a better understanding, but they are mainly there to give the talky narrative some kind of arc-like shape. On the other hand, Marlon Wayans is surprisingly restrained playing Dean, while Jenny Slate is embarrassingly unfunny as Vanessa, the kooky parent who insists on confiding in Laura whenever she drops the kids off at school. She is not on-screen for long, but vintage TV fans will be happy to see Barbara Bain (
Mission Impossible, Space 1999) appearing briefly as Laura’s grandmother.

Really, there is no question this film exists so Murray can do his thing, which is still quite droll. It is not very cinematic, but it passes the time. It should also be noted, there is some terrific licensed music on the soundtrack, including two Chet Baker tunes and “In Orbit,” recorded by Quincy Jones’ pal Clark Terry, with Thelonious Monk. Actually, that’s sort of Woody Allen-ish too. Regardless, nobody needs to see
On the Rocks in a theater, but it is recommended for fans who want to dip into a new Bill Murray clips package when it starts streaming tomorrow (10/23) on Apple TV.