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'Just Getting Started' lies to you right in its title

"Just Getting Started" is just about as bad as movies get that boast a top-level cast.

It's like this: Imagine you get an invitation to a party from a renowned host, a guy who, in fact, threw one of the greatest parties you've ever been to. Imagine further that to inveigle you into coming, he has sent you the confirmed guest list, which is packed with the names of people you haven't seen in a while and have come to miss.

Imagine then, that you go to the party and it is one of the most humiliating and botched affairs you've ever been to. In years hence, when the subject of the party comes up, it is only the kindness in your heart that will get you to say "well, it's always nice to see Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo and it was even good that they were surrounded by Joe Pantoliano, Elizabeth Ashley, Glenne Headley, Sheryl Lee Ralph and comedian George Wallace."

Our host at this demeaning tribute to pathetically superannuated machismo is Ron Shelton who once gave us what I still consider the great American Baseball Movie --"Bull Durham." His golf match variation on it was called "Tin Cup" and it's a much more controversial piece of work. Some hate it. I like it because it's a rarity: a sports movie about getting the yips and being a failure because you always manage to defeat yourself.

Shelton's movie about stripper Blaze Starr and Louisiana Gov. Earl Long, "Blaze," was only half as good as it should have been but at least Paul Newman had a good time playing Long. When Shelton turned to the subject of Ty Cobb, his star Tommy Lee was ready to give the performance of his life but he couldn't manage it because the movie just wasn't good enough.

The premise of "Just Getting Started" is that Morgan Freeman plays Duke Diver, the resort manager of a luxury Palm Springs retirement community where people fill their leisure time with golf, sex, drinking, dancing, dining, painting and poker.

Duke is a universally beloved eccentric, an alpha male who spreads joy wherever he goes and who knows Johnny Mathis -- personally.

Into his close-knit tribe of senior citizen revelers comes a former FBI guy (Jones) who has, in retirement, made a megaton of money and become a civilized man of the world. All of this is proved by some of the phoniest "cultural" dialogue you've ever encountered (and which Jones is capable is mispronouncing.)

Another new arrival is Russo, the siren of "Tin Cup" and the "Lethal Weapon" series. She plays a woman who lords herself over everyone even though she secretly fits in perfectly with this bunch.

The idea here is that we're watching old folks supposedly acting young. Unfortunately, in the current climate of gender reappraisal, all we're watching is old men acting like lecherous wannabes and mature women delivering some of the saddest horny double-entendres in movie history. (When the word "flocking" comes up, Headley confesses "I like a good flocking from time to time.")

For dramatic tension, we have the rivalrous males competing at golf, ping-pong, and poker and fleeing from a numbskull hitman from New Jersey whose father never succeeded in teaching him how to kill the right people.

That the guy who once gave us "Bull Durham" is now giving us this amateur night is a disgrace. That's what you call it when you fill the screen with people of such worthy histories and give them nothing interesting to do.

Among the wisest things ever said about old age will always be the immortal dictum of Bette Davis: "Old age ain't for sissies."

It also ain't for people whose skills have vanished completely but are pretending they haven't.

MOVIE REVIEW

Just Getting Started

1 star (out of four)

Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rene Russo and a top-notch cast of veteran character actors in Ron Shelton's movie about a rivalry between two alpha males at a luxury resort community for retirees. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language.

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