- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2001

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The ABC movie "These Old Broads" sounds on paper like a distaff version of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys," the movie comedy that renewed George Burns' career.

Wesley Westburn (Jonathan Silverman), the son of actress Kate Westburn (Shirley MacLaine), agrees to produce a TV reunion special featuring his mother and her co-stars from "Boy Crazy." Their fictional 42-year-old musical has become a surprise smash in re-release.

There's a problem, of course. Kate and co-stars Piper Grayson (Debbie Reynolds) and Addie Holden (Joan Collins) don't get along and don't want to work together again. The expected solution comes in the form of tough-talking agent Beryl Mason (Elizabeth Taylor), who makes a deal too sweet to refuse.

The son's role in the production expands when he fires the director for coming to the set drunk and explaining, "I couldn't do this sober." This means more navigating of the personal battles among the leading ladies.

The show plays off real life in several ways, such as having Miss Taylor's character sort of apologize to Miss Reynolds for having stolen her husband. (Singer Eddie Fisher married Miss Taylor after he and Miss Reynolds divorced.)

The TV movie's premise is set up quickly as we see two network executives concocting the reunion idea, then see footage on an "Entertainment Tonight"-like show explaining where the three women are today. The opening exposition moves so breezily that I wondered what writers (and co-executive producers) Carrie Fisher, who is Miss Reynolds' daughter, and Elaine Pope would use to fill the rest of the two hours.

The answer also came rather quickly: sexual innuendo and situations.

For starters, the trio's grudges began years ago because all three were involved romantically with the director of "Boy Crazy."

Then there's the side plot about Addie's gangster boyfriend, played by Pat Harrington, dying in a hotel bed after a tryst. This leads to an in-joke sequence in which Addie and her co-stars smuggle the body out of the hotel room, in a fashion similar to that of Miss MacLaine's real-life first film, "The Trouble With Harry," or Mr. Silverman's "Weekend at Bernie's."

The nonsexual dialogue also has an edge to it. For example, when Wesley finds out his mother, who is struggling financially, doesn't want to do the special, he threatens to write a tell-all book saying Kate used to beat him.

"I wish I had," she says with a sigh.

"These Old Broads" has a few gags of the sort you would expect from the setup, such as a ballet of slipping and stumbling triggered by a miscued snow machine during a dress rehearsal, but the writers mostly adhere to their cynical tone.

All of this serves, hopefully, as a sufficient warning so you won't tune in looking for sentimental fare or the type of innocent musical "Boy Crazy" seems to be.

Still, "These Old Broads" does have some laugh-out-loud lines. The actresses also are game for the material, which often pokes fun at their personas. Miss Reynolds, who was a real-life casino owner, plays a casino operator on screen; Miss MacLaine's character shares the actress's belief in the spirit world; and Miss Collins' character endures wisecracks about her youthful good looks being the result of heavy-duty plastic surgery.

Although the gags are thin, the cast makes the movie watchable. Viewers who aren't offended by the emphasis on sex might find it a good way to kill two hours.

{*}{*}WHAT: "These Old Broads"WHERE: WJLA (Channel 7)WHEN: 8 to 10 p.m. Feb. 12

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