Played out against the backdrop of a nursing home, “Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game,” a first feature by neurologist Howard L. Weiner and the last starring the late Martin Landau, too often finds itself treading a wobbly line between melancholic and mawkish.
Landau, who died last July at age 89, makes for an effective Abe Mandelbaum, a doctor who has reluctantly checked into Cliffside Manor with his mentally deteriorating wife (Ann Marie Shea).
He quickly strikes up a series of friendships, including a chummy one with a womanizing gambler (Paul Sorvino), a paternal one with a new nurse searching for her biological father (Maria Dizzia) and a decidedly less fatherly one with a divorced 50-something volunteer (Pamela Dubin) who, um, awakens something long dormant within him.
It’s the film’s candid treatment of that latter aspect — the depiction of senior citizens as sexual beings — that sets it apart from other American movies in which randy octogenarians are usually played strictly for laughs.
But while Landau and Sorvino gamely go all in, delivering the sort of uninhibited performances that will cause more than a few viewers to squirm uncomfortably in their seats, writer-director Weiner, himself well over retirement age, was unwilling to settle for “Carnal Knowledge” with canes.
Tripping over soapy subplots and maudlin conventions, it loses its footing just as Abe regains his mojo.
‘Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game’
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills