Picks and Pans Review: Twilight

updated 03/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, James Garner

As movies go, this is your father's Oldsmobile. And yet what a smooth, comfy, old-fashioned but still stylish ride it offers. Twilight, with its solid-gold cast of veteran pros and as directed by Robert Benton (Nobody's Fool), is a pleasure from start to finish. Oh, maybe it creaks a little here and there, as do its getting-up-there-in-years stars, but this movie knows where it's going—and how to get there quickly while still managing a few scenic side trips.

A whodunit set in contemporary L.A., the movie pays homage to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (right down to a key line that's appropriated from Hammett's The Maltese Falcon). Newman plays an ex-cop and private investigator (and recovering drunk) who lives in the garage apartment of a posh house owned by an aging but still glamorous movie star couple (Hackman and Sarandon), former clients of Newman's who have become pals. Twenty years earlier, the two movie stars fell in love and wed after Sarandon's then husband, also an actor, committed suicide. Now questions about his death are being raised, and Newman finds himself both hunting down leads and being hunted.

Twilight is, however, much more than just a mystery. Because of its Hollywood characters and the long careers of the stars playing them, it's also an elegy for a movie era whose day is almost past, and it is about aging gracefully, which everyone here is doing beautifully. Time, the movie makes clear, catches up with all of us. Or, as Garner, who plays another ex-cop, says to Newman while the two sit on a bench in a police station, "Your prostate started acting up?"

"Not yet," says Newman.

Says Garner ruefully: "Well, you're in for a whole lotta fun."

Twilight is a whole lotta fun, but fun tinged with plaintive regret. (R)

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