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The Fortune Cookie (August 14/02)

The Fortune Cookie is the first film to feature Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau together, and though it's not quite as good as some of their later films, it's still a very entertaining and occasionally funny comedy.

Lemmon stars as a cameraman who, while covering a football game, winds up getting tackled by an overzealous player. He's rushed to the hospital where his family is waiting, including his sleazy brother-in-law lawyer (Matthau). Matthau immediately hatches a scheme to sue various organizations for a million dollars relating to Lemmon's injuries. One problem: Lemmon wasn't hurt that badly, and initially doesn't want anything to do with Matthau's plan. But Matthau convinces him that his ex-wife, who he still has feelings for, will feel sorry for him and rush to his side. So, the two work out a strategy to ensure that the private investigators hired to prove Lemmon is faking it never discover the truth.

The Fortune Cookie's been directed by Billy Wilder, a master at this sort of thing. But unlike something along the lines of The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie feels a little too rambling and unfocused to ever become a classic. Having said that, the movie is certainly worth checking out primarily due to the two lead performances. Even though this was their first movie together, the molds that Lemmon and Matthau would be forever be known for are here. Matthau's playing a freewheeling shyster while Lemmon takes the role of the more conservative, close-to-the-vest type.

It's their performances that make The Fortune Cookie worth checking out, because the story itself isn't terribly interesting. While Wilder's ease in directing his actors and telling a light story is always evident, the material is perhaps a little too fluffy to sustain such a long running time (around 128 minutes). Had the film been chopped down to about 90 minutes (which should be the required length for comedies, but that's a whole different argument), there's no doubt it would've been a lot more effective.

Still, you just can't go wrong with Lemmon and Matthau, so on that basis, The Fortune Cookie is certainly worth a look.

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