In a “Lost in Translation” reunion, writer-director Sofia Coppola lets Bill Murray let loose in “On the Rocks,” an entertaining, wonderfully simple comedy with the qualities of a smooth martini – it goes down easy, but delivers a bit of kick.
Murray’s presence takes a while to kick in, as the story begins with his daughter, Laura (Rashida Jones), who is understandably harried and stressed. She’s trying to write a book and tend to a pair of young children, while her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is increasingly absent, traveling a lot for a new business venture he’s working to establish.
It all seems pretty idyllic until Laura drops by one of Dean’s work events, and notices the attractive coworker (Jessica Henwick) with whom her husband has been spending a lot of time. She then shares those suspicions with her dad, Murray’s Felix, an unrepentant playboy – and still a shameless flirt – who immediately assumes the worst (“It’s probably nothing, but…”), dragging a reluctant Laura into spy work to ascertain if her hubby is cheating on her.
“You need to start thinking like a man,” counsels Felix, a former art gallery owner who still lives the good life, seemingly knows everyone and appears to be having the time of his life playing detective, although the real motivation might be the chance to spend time with his kid.
The father-daughter dynamic provides the obvious spine of the movie, but happily, not in an especially heavy-handed way. That allows Murray – who also teamed with Coppola on the 2015 Netflix special “A Very Murray Christmas” – the opportunity to show off his goofball charm as Felix saunters through life, holds forth on the evolutionary wiring behind being a philanderer, and squires Laura to posh clubs and expensive meals.
At its core, there’s a pretty familiar midlife crisis plucked from the advice columns underlying it all – Has the magic left our marriage? – that Jones nicely captures, while confronting her father both regarding his past and his slightly Neanderthal-like ways, at one point asking, “Who has a travel agent anymore?”
“On the Rocks” also serves as a sort-of love letter to New York City, in the way Woody Allen’s older movies were, which becomes oddly timely after the painful stretch the city endured during the height of the coronavirus outbreak.
The film is receiving a few-week release in theaters, where it likely would have struggled in any event, before landing in the more comfortable confines of Apple TV+. However and wherever it’s seen, “On the Rocks” is worth the time, if only for the warmth the movie exhibits toward its throwback leading man, and its vision of the town that his character cheerfully owns.
“On the Rocks” premieres Oct. 2 in theaters and Oct. 23 on Apple TV+. It’s rated R.