Stars:  Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykryod, Jenny McCarthy, Lauren Bacall

Kirk Douglas returns to the screen for the first time since suffering a stroke in 1996. and is reunited with Lauren Bacall who last acted with him in 1950 (“Young Man With a Horn”). This week, Douglas turned 83 years old. Take a good look at him, for despite a severe speech impediment and his being a little shaky around the edges, this man still has the vibrancy and spunk of his younger days.

Here, Douglas plays former boxing champion Harry Agensky who struggles daily with the loss of his wife and the effects of a stroke. As you can imagine, much of the film had been customized to fit Douglas’ condition and he had a good hand in reworking a number of the scenes. The filmmakers made extensive use of footage from Douglas’ 1949 film “The Champion” in which he played an ambitious boxer and received a best-actor nomination, to set up his character.

Harry lives in Canada with son Moses and daughter-in-law Rose and knows he has little time before he’s placed in an old age home. When other son Lance (Dan Aykryod) and 18-year old grandson Michael (Corbin Allred) come to visit, Harry convinces them to go to Nevada in search of thirteen long lost diamonds that were given to him by a mobster for throwing a fight. He figures it’s the only way he’ll ever be able to afford to take care of himself.

Against his better judgment, Lance agrees and off the three generations of Agensky men go.

Harry’s big mouth and deranged humor get them into a little trouble along the way, but they arrive in Reno where the suspected diamonds are. But, the search for the diamonds seems to get lost to the greater joys of gambling, drinking and a strange visit to a brothel where Harry can re-live the power of his days as a “bull”. It is here that he meets Sin-dee, the madame, played by the ravishing Lauren Bacall.

Up till now, this is little more than a slighty charming, largely oversentimental and predictable film, poorly written and not very imaginatively directed. Now comes this highly questionable scene at the brothel where it’s decided that the underaged Michael should be introduced to sex. No serious discussions of AIDS or VD here – no discussion of condoms for that matter either. Now I was really beginning to wonder about this PG-13 glossing over of some serious consequences to their actions. (Douglas, in fact, fought against the original R rating this film received)

The brothel scenes turned out to be the best in the film. Handled deftly and quite humorously. they saved the film entirely from its own dreariness.

After this little bit of fun ends, it’s back to the diamond search and the predictable ending. So much more could have been added to give this film even a margin of suspense and real adventure along the way but the screenwriter (along with Douglas’ huge input) seemed more intent on delivering syrupy sentimentality, as if the audience couldn’t handle much more. I grant you, seeing Douglas diminished in his capacitity (childlike) was a little hard, but I bet you he could have handled a stronger dramatic story if one had been delivered to him. While there are, indeed, some important issues on aging, dignity and fighting back expressed here, its messages were usurped by a weak “comic” story with poor execution. These are issues that deserve a stronger setting.

I hope Douglas gets at least one more chance because “Diamonds” shouldn’t be the last film for which he is remembered.

The film is being released in a limited run in Los Angeles and New York in time for Academy Award consideration and will enjoy national release in January. Also features Jenny McCarthy as one of the brothel girls.

Lotta says: “Diamonds” isn’t as sparkling as I had hoped.