(director/writer: Theodore Melfi;cinematographer: John Lindley; editors: Peter Tescher/Sarah Flack; music: Theodore Shapiro; cast: Bill Murray (Vincent), Melissa McCarthy (Maggie), Naomi Watts (Daka), Chris O’Dowd (Brother Geraghty), Terrence Howard (Zucko), Jaeden Lieberher (Oliver), Donna Mitchell (Sandy), Kimberly Quinn (Nurse Ana), Ray Iannicelli (Roger, bartender), Darrio Barosso (Ocinski, bully), Lenny Venito (Gym Teacher), Ann Dowd (Shirley, Sunnyside Administrator); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Peter Chernin/Jenno Topping/Theodore. Melfi/Fred Roos; Weinstein Company; 2014)

Bill Murray plays the grouchy old man as well as anybody in Hollywood.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bill Murray plays the grouchy old man as well as anybody in Hollywood. In this very funny comedy, writer-director Theodore Melfi, in his initial feature film directing effort, gets away with bathos, a Murray role drenched in cliche and over familiar formulaic comedy. Thanks goes to Murray and his ability to keep things off the wall even when things start getting overly conventional. It could have been a gem if Melfi felt confident to let things just rip and not be confined to the usual sentimental shticks.

Recent single mom, in the midst of a bitter divorce with her cheating lawyer husband, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), and her bright, good-natured, pint-sized 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) move into a house in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay next door to the crusty old-timer Vincent McKenna (Bill Murray). He’s a hero Vietnam veteran, a ne’er do well, a sourpuss, a gambler and a drunk. The impoverished Vincent lives alone with his cat Felix, in a run-down house. Every week he visits Sandy (Donna Mitchell), a mystery woman who he dresses up for as a doctor to reassure her that she’s doing fine while she’s residing in an exclusive nursing home for the last eight years suffering from Alzheimer’s. The fun-loving cynic, Vincent, receives regular home visits from the course but good-hearted pregnant heavily-accented Russian hooker Daka (Naomi Watts).

The story revolves around the working Cat scan technician mom, hiring the money-scrapped free-spirit Vincent for $12 per hour to babysit her kid after he attends the St. Patrick’s school, and how a friendship blossoms between the two when Vincent mentors the kid by taking him to his hang-out local bar, teaching him how to fight the school bully and gamble at Belmont. Their relationship is tested by many quirky situations and leads to the kid nominating Vincent for sainthood in his school project assigned to him by his wisecracking loving teacher Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd).

All the supporting performances are first-rate. McCarthy handles her straight-role with deftness and true feelings. The naturalistic performance by Jaeden Lieberher makes him credible as the wide-eyed kid who is easy to root for. Watts is a hoot as the street-smart exotic dancer and hooker. It’s worth staying for the end credits, because as the credits roll by Murray waters his dirt lawn and sings along with a tape of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm.”

St. Vincent