Producers: Anthony I. Ginnane and David Lightfoot Director: Mark Lamprell Screenplay: Luke Preston Cast: James Cromwell, Dennis Waterman, Roy Billing, Shane Jacobson, Jack Thompson, Jacki Weaver, Zachary Wan, Renee Lim, Gina Lamprell and Max Cullen Distributor: Blue Fox Entertainment
Feel-good geezer comedies are a genre staple, and “Never Too Late” is a decent if unexceptional example of the type. An engaging cast makes it tolerable, but it ends up no more distinctive than its banal title.
A prologue uses file footage to give us the back-story about a quartet of POWs who escaped from a North Vietnamese internment camp fifty years ago, earning the nickname “The Chain Breakers.” One of them, Bronson (James Cromwell), is determined finally to do what he failed to long ago: propose to the love of his life, Norma (Jackie Weaver). But to do so, he’ll need to break into the Hogan Hills veterans’ home where she now lives, and fakes a stroke to gain admittance. Unfortunately, she’s suffering the onset of dementia, and almost as soon as he gets in, she’s transferred out for treatment at another facility. Meanwhile Bronson’s ruse unravels and stern Lin (Renee Lim), the manager of the place, sees to it that he’s actually admitted as a patient.
That makes for a reunion of sorts, since his old comrades Caine (Dennis Waterman), Wendell (Roy Billing) and Angus (Jack Thompson) are all living there. Determined to break out and propose to Norma, Bronson convinces them to mount a joint escape by telling them that the commandant of the POW camp where they were imprisoned is in the nursing home where Norma has been sent, and suggesting they should take the opportunity for revenge. But the plan collapses when they discover he’s lying to them.
When he confesses his reason for wanting to escape, however, they understand, because each has a similar dream. As a young man Angus, now in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, won a soccer award that was withheld from him, and wants at least to see it in its display case at the stadium. Wheelchair-bound Wendell has long been estranged from his son Bruce (Shane Jacobson), and wants a chance to reconnect with him. And Caine, who’s terminally ill, wants to go off on his yacht and die in his own way. So they all agree to escape, but the mission now has four goals.
Once again the scheme doesn’t go quite as planned (especially in terms of another resident, Max Cullen’s Hank, whom they enlist as a collaborator), but in the tradition of such films, they pull it off, helped along the way by Elliot (Zachary Wan), a teen whose mother works at Hogan Hills. By the close even the formidable Lin is won over, and Bronson is able to make peace with her as well, though the coincidence that underlies their rapprochement is likely to strain even the most amenable viewer’s willingness to suspend disbelief.
The ensemble play this complicated-but-undemanding scenario with agreeable looseness under Mark Lamprell’s accommodating direction. Cromwell dominates with his combination of grumpiness and sentimentality, but Thompson brings intensity to his not infrequent rants, while Waterman and Billing each have their moments to shine. Weaver, on the other hand, has little to do but smile blankly. But Wan does nicely as the inevitable youngster drawn into helping the old gents, and Jacobson is amiably beefy as Wendell’s waylaid son.
“Never Too Late” will win no plaudits for its technical polish–Peter Falk’s cinematography and Tony Cronin’s production design are no better than adequate, and Marc Van Buuren’s editing is hardly sharp. Nor is Angela Little’s score a memorable one.
Still, older audiences in particular might enjoy spending ninety minutes with Cromwell and his crew, even if their collaborators behind the camera haven’t provided them with the quality of support they deserve.