Review: ‘Never Too Late,’ starring James Cromwell, Shane Jacobson and Jacki Weaver

July 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

James Cromwell, Jack Thompson, Roy Billing and Dennis Waterman in “Never Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Never Too Late” (2020)

Directed by Mark Lamprell

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Adelaide, South Australia, the comedy “Never Too Late” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four Vietnam War veterans try to break out of their prison-like nursing home.

Culture Audience: “Never Too Late” will appeal primarily to people who like comedies that make senior citizens look like cartoonish buffoons.

James Cromwell and Jacki Weaver in “Never Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

The filmmakers of the cringeworthy comedy “Never Too Late” should make an apology to the nursing homes of Australia for making these nursing homes look like prisons run by callous and barbaric people. “Never Too Late” (directed by Mark Lamprell and written by Luke Preston) is built around this flimsy premise, which is filled with too many moments that insult viewers’ intelligence. The considerable talents of this movie’s cast are wasted in this film that is dead-set on making almost all of them, especially the senior citizens, look like fools.

“Never Too Late” begins with a voiceover from retired Australian military nurse Norma McCarthy (played by Jacki Weaver) and a montage of what’s supposed to be old Vietnam War photos and footage. Norma says, “For three years, I nursed soldiers in Vietnam. But this story isn’t about me. It’s about the love of my life and the three men who went against all odds to get him back to me. They were known as the Chain Breakers: four young lads full of guts and swagger, a secret elite squad from the U.K., the U.S. and Australia.”

Norma further explains that the Chain Breakers became prisoners of war in Vietnam for 12 months until the four men managed to escape. They all eventually went their separate ways. The leader of the Chain Breakers is Lieutenant Jack Bronson (played by James Cromwell), an American who tends to be bossy and arrogant. He also happens to be the “love of my life” whom Norma speaks fondly about in the opening sequence. We soon find out that Jack was the love who got away from Norma.

Viewers first see the present-day Jack in a wheelchair, and he looks like he’s had a stroke. He has checked himself into the Hogan Hills Retirement Home for Returned Veterans in Adelaide, South Australia. And after he gets a routine exam to test his motor skills (he’s slack-jawed and can barely speak), Jack is wheeled into his assigned room.

As soon as the attendants leave, Jack quickly gets up and walks around as if he’s perfectly healthy. It’s apparent that he was faking his stroke and disabilities. But why? Because he wanted to check into the nursing home, since Norma lives there too. Even though Norma has been corresponding with Jack by letter every week for 50 years, they haven’t seen each other in person during all that time.

Norma was married to a doctor, and she is now a widow who’s checked herself into Hogan Hills. Jack has come to the nursing home to “surprise” Norma. Jack immediately finds Norma by herself in a hallway. (How convenient.) She recognizes him after they haven’t seen each other for 50 years, and they make googly eyes at each other.

But just as Jack is about to ask Norma an important question (we all know what that question will be), an attendant shows up and says that Norma has to leave because she’s being transferred to another nursing home. Jack refuses to let her leave, a slight scuffle ensues, and security attendants are called. Jack and Norma are separated before he can ask her the question.

While “in custody,” Jack is scolded by the nursing home’s stern manager Kim Lin (played by Renee Lim) for faking his disabilities and causing a ruckus. He’s also told that Norma has early stages of dementia and won’t be back at the nursing home for three months. Norma been taken to a nearby nursing facility called Bay Lodge for experimental treatment of her dementia.

“In three months, she might not remember me,” moans Jack. Thus begins the contrived “race against time” for Jack to reunite with Norma to ask her his big question.

Viewers might wonder, “Why can’t Jack visit Norma in person at this other nursing home?” The answer is because Hogan Hills keeps the residents locked up like prisoners. Doors are locked with access cards that only employees have.

And later in the movie, it gets worse: When someone in the Chain Breakers gets caught trying to leave the nursing home, he is punished by getting strapped tightly to a bed and injected with medication that leaves him in a zonked-out state of mind. This completely illegal imprisonment happens more than once in the movie. Keep in mind that this is a nursing home, but it’s unrealistically run like a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” psychiatric facility, with Kim Lin as Hogan Hills’ version of Nurse Ratched.

There’s even a high chain-link fence around Hogan Hills that Jack discovers while he’s being held in the nursing home. (Obviously, he didn’t do his homework in finding out what kind of facility this really is.) It’s at this fence that Jack meets Elliot (played by Zachary Wan), who looks to be about 15 or 16 years old. Elliot is the only child of a Hogan Hills nurse named Gina (played by Gina Lamprell), and he seems eager to have someone to talk to when he meets Jack.

Elliot says that he knows all the ins and outs of the nursing home. The teenager also mentions that he hangs out at the nursing home a lot because his single mother is afraid to leave him at home by himself after school. Later, Jack finds out that Elliot lied to him about why Elliot spends a lot of time at the nursing home: Gina says that Elliot is the one who’s afraid to be home alone, and he asked his mother if he could hang out at the nursing home while she works.

But something that Elliot tells Jack is true: The other three members of the Chain Breakers are in the same nursing home as he is. Gee, what a coincidence. And guess who’s going to help Jack break out of this nursing home and into the nursing home where Norma is staying/being imprisoned? It’s called Operation Skippy, as in, they’re going to skip right on out of this nursing home if it’s the last thing they do.

And why does Elliot know so much about the Chain Breakers? It turns out that he’s a Vietnam War history buff and he’s idolized the Chain Breakers for years. Gee, what a coincidence. And he volunteers to help them with their mission to break out of the nursing home. At first, the Chain Breakers are reluctant to let this kid tag along, but when they consider how helpful Elliot can be, they include him in their plans.

As for the other Chain Breakers: Angus “Screw Loose” Wilson (played by Jack Thompson) is in the early stages of having Alzheimer’s disease. There are several tacky jokes made about his forgetfulness and mental stability, such as his tendency to walk around naked from the waist down because he forgets to dress himself down there. Angus is the most mild-mannered one of the four Chain Breakers.

Corporal James Wendell (played by Roy Billing) is a hot-tempered, wheelchair-bound rogue with a criminal record for bank robbery. Viewers first see James fighting off three male nursing attendants with a broom because he doesn’t want to take a prostate exam. James might have a gruff exterior, but he’s going through some emotional pain because his adult son Bruce (played by Shane Jacobson), whom James hasn’t seen since Bruce was a baby, refuses to communicate with him. James’ letters to Bruce are returned unopened.

Sergeant Jeremiah Caine (played by Dennis Waterman) is the smooth-talking ladies’ man of the group. Jeremiah, who’s British, was a semi-famous actor, and he’s good at conning his way out of situations. Jeremiah is having a secret fling with a married resident at the nursing home. He and his lover are almost caught while they’re having a tryst in her room, when her husband knocks on the door, but Jeremiah manages to convince her husband that he has the wrong room. (This movie has a lot of cheap jokes about old people being forgetful.)

There’s also a somewhat unnecessary character named Hank (played by Max Cullen), a Hogan Hills wacky resident in his 90s, whose only purpose in the movie is to barge in on the Chain Breakers’ secret meetings (which they have in a stock room) and make a nuisance out of himself. The predictable insulting jokes about Hank’s age and physical decline are then made at his expense. Hank responds to the insults by calling the other men “pussies,” because the “Never Too Late” filmmakers think that old people cursing in a movie is automatically supposed to be funny.

The rest of the movie is as predictable and mindless as you would expect it to be. Although the acting is passable, the dialogue in the film is not. Here’s an example of some of the vapid conversations in this useless film. Jeremiah asks Jack: “Do you have a plan?” Jack answers, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?”

And there are some hijinks involving a loaded gun that Jeremiah has smuggled into Hogan Hills; Angus’ habit of walking around naked from the waist down; and a predictable scheme to set off the fire-alarm sprinklers in order to force an evacuation. And a few of the characters have certain things revealed about themselves that aren’t too surprising.

There are several plot holes that this movie never answers. First, Jack is able to fake a stroke without medical records to back it up. These medical records would be required before he was admitted into this military veterans’ nursing home. Second, it was also unnecessary for him to fake a stroke when it’s a nursing home for able-bodied people as well as people with disabilities.

And most importantly, this nursing home isn’t a psychiatric facility where it would be reasonable to place people on lockdown. It’s not legal in Australia and most other civil societies to imprison people in a nursing home when they are of sound mind and no danger to themselves or other people. There’s some cockamamie explanation in the movie that Jack (who is of sound mind and body) and the other Hogan Hills residents signed over their rights to leave the nursing of their own free will—in other words, they agreed to be held as prisoners there—but that in and of itself is a problematic legal issue that no legitimate nursing home would be allowed to get away with for long.

Even if it were actually legal for Australian nursing homes to imprison residents, why would a former prisoner of war agree to that in the first place? It just makes Jack look incredibly dumb. And we won’t even get into the legalities of how a legitimate nursing home probably wouldn’t allow an employee’s underage child who doesn’t work there to come over and wander around wherever and whenever he wanted.

And then there’s the most logical thing that the movie completely ignores: If Jack was so desperate to see Norma, he could have just visited her. He didn’t have to go to the trouble of checking into the same nursing home where she lives and pretend to have a stroke. And after Norma was transferred to the Bay Lodge nursing facility, she was still lucid enough to have visited Jack at Hogan Hills. (It’s shown in the movie that Bay Lodge isn’t as restrictive as Hogan Hills.)

But if all this logic had been in the screenplay, there wouldn’t be a plot for this insipid movie, which doesn’t just stretch the limit of common sense. It obliterates common sense in order to make almost every character look as moronic as possible. There’s no sense of camp, irony or satire about all the silliness in this horrible film that wants to think it’s a classic comedy, just because a bunch of well-known actors (two who are past Oscar nominees) are saying the lines.

“Never Too Late” looks like a cheesy made-for-TV movie, even down to the sitcom-ish musical score. And because this movie is directed like a forgettable sitcom, the actors all look like they’re just going through the motions and not having any fun. Viewers of this dreck won’t have any fun watching it either.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Never Too Late” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on July 10, 2020. The movie’s VOD/digital release date is on August 14, 2020.