NEW YORK — “Can we please stop saying sex?” a character asks in the ensemble romantic comedy “Book Club” (Paramount). The answer, in a word, is no.
In fact, there’s hardly a line of dialogue in director and co-writer Bill Holderman’s film, penned with Erin Simms, that doesn’t contain an innuendo, a smutty pun or some other tiresome joke. A listless cat’s visit to a veterinarian and the refurbishment of a motorcycle are both made the occasion for extended off-color wordplay, while the use of Viagra in ill-chosen setting results in a series of cringe-worthy visuals.
Such elements are all the more embarrassing given the movie’s stellar veteran cast. That these pros are going to find themselves flailing around in a morass of bad taste becomes apparent as soon as the premise is known: A group of friends, all ladies of a certain age, find their interest in amour renewed after their book club takes on E.L. James’ sadomasochistic “Fifty Shades” trilogy.
And so, they’re off to the races, each in her own way. Timid recent widow Diane (Diane Keaton) who suffers from fear of flying, falls, ironically enough, for wealthy pilot and aeronautics researcher Mitchell (Andy Garcia). But Diane’s path to happiness is blocked by the patronizing attitude of her duo of over-solicitous daughters, Jill (Alicia Silverstone) and Adrianne (Katie Aselton).
Promiscuous, emotionally detached hotel owner Vivian (Jane Fonda) reconnects with Arthur (Don Johnson), the ex whose proposal she long ago turned down. Though she increasingly regrets her decision, reintegrating the physical and emotional aspects of love may take some work.
Buttoned-up federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen) has yet to get over her divorce from Tom (Ed Begley Jr.), despite the fact that it’s been 18 years since they split. But, apparently inspired by the kinky connection she and the others have been reading about, she tries an online dating service and promptly meets George (Richard Dreyfuss). He’s so obviously her soulmate that they follow up their first meal together by going for it in the back seat of her car.
Meanwhile, married couple of many years Carol (Mary Steenburgen) and Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) struggle to reignite the faltering flames of their mutual passion.
“Book Club” crusades relentlessly for an aging woman’s to satisfaction in the bedroom — or the back seat — without regard to marital status or any other circumstance. Only Vivian’s tilt away from her licentious past and Carol and Bruce’s commitment to fidelity partially retrieve the lowminded proceedings.
The film contains a misguided view of human sexuality, an offscreen premarital encounter, implied cohabitation, pervasive sexual humor, including an extended tasteless sight gag, several profanities and milder oaths and at least one rough and a couple of crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.