“On the Rocks” adds another poker-faced rascal to Bill Murray’s gallery of comic rogues.
In his second film collaboration with writer-director Sofia Coppola, the grand old funnyman plays an obliviously past-his-prime playboy. Rashida Jones co-stars as Murray’s daughter, a book author in New York City who suspects her husband is having an affair.
Mixing bouts of hilarity with hints of melancholy, “On the Rocks” gives Murray deliciously amusing scenes and dialogue. As Felix, a martini-sipping art dealer in New York City, Murray glides on a plain of his own making, seemingly above the troubled ground that ordinary people tread. If Felix has regrets, they’re too few to mention. But glimpses of him staring into the night with a hangdog face suggest he also knows the best is not yet to come.
Despite being a mischievous connoisseur of the high life, Felix enjoys dropping into his daughter Laura’s nonglamorous life. He loves Laura and the two young grandchildren upon whom he’s a bad influence.
In the nonflashy role of Laura, Jones does dutiful thespian work alongside the scene-stealing Murray. Inevitably, Laura becomes second banana in a story that’s ostensibly about her.
Happily married for years to the ambitious, hardworking Dean, played by Marlon Wayans, Laura wonders what’s up when she finds something suspicious in her frequently traveling husband’s luggage.
“He’s a man,” her straight-faced father warns. “It’s nature. Males are forced to fight, to dominate and to impregnate all females.”
This possible fracture in Laura’s marriage prompts Felix to convince his normally sensible daughter to spy on her husband. Together, father and daughter become private eyes. An especially madcap sequence that follows earns its way into Murray’s hall of fame. But Coppola puts the brakes on going full-tilt comedy, leaving the potential for more farce unfulfilled.
Despite cellphones, “On the Rocks” evokes entertainment from decades ago: Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall”; detective yarns and screwball comedies from classic Hollywood; and family sitcoms from television’s early decades (though the bon vivant father Murray portrays doesn’t necessarily know best).
Echoing Allen’s dialogue-heavy stories about sophisticates in the city, the characters in “On the Rocks” are creative, upper-middle class or rich. They dine at the 21 Club, collect art and chase surging careers. Felix, for one, employs a personal driver who chauffeurs him around in a black Mercedes.
Murray’s and Coppola’s first film together, 2003’s funny and sad “Lost in Translation,” set a high bar for any future partnership. A landmark for Murray, that film earned him an Oscar nomination. Coppola won the Oscar for best original screenplay and received nominations for best picture and best director.
“On the Rocks” and its undercooked script don’t match “Lost in Translation.” And Scarlett Johansson, Murray’s sparkling co-star in “Lost in Translation,” doesn’t return to complete the trifecta in “On the Rocks.”
Jones provides a thoughtful performance in “Rocks,” but her rapport with Murray isn’t as potent as his connection with Johansson in “Lost in Translation.” Jones doesn’t enter Murray’s altitude. Maybe lightning would have struck again if Johansson had returned or Coppola had paired Murray with a comedienne as formidable as Kristen Wiig.
Because Laura’s amiable husband, Dean, is a fleeting character sketch, Wayans stays a distant third wheel. The movie’s evocative soundtrack, on the other hand, becomes a character unseen. The director’s husband, Thomas Mars, and his French pop band, Phoenix, composed the original score and supervised the placement of classical pieces and jazz standards performed by classic jazz artists.
“On the Rocks” isn’t Coppola at her best, but it’s well-crafted enough to outmatch much of today’s streaming “content.” There’s also enough of Murray’s deadpan wackiness to make his latest on-screen performance worth a vicarious visit to New York, the city that dashed those little town blues and, at least pre-coronavirus, never slept.
‘ON THE ROCKS’
STARRING: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans
DIRECTED BY: Sofia Coppola
AVAILABLE ON: Apple TV+ starting Friday
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 37 mins.
MPAA RATING: Rated R (Under 17 approval from parent or guardian recommended.)
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? For some language/sexual references.
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)