"Book Club" is not about reading.
There's a book club in "Book Club," all right. But its members – Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen – choose to read "Fifty Shades of Grey," and subsequent discussions are not of a literary nature.
Instead the women are inspired to resume ... well, let's call it dating. Those that have seen that area of their lives fallen in to neglect, anyway.
Group leader Vivian (Fonda) has never stopped dating. She's a hotelier who has lived a defiantly single life, and though she dates younger men, this is a consequence of the fact that she retains the preferences she had in her youth (sort of like the Matthew McConaughey's character in "Dazed and Confused," only more legal).
She selects the E.L. James megaseller, and urges her friends to heed its attention to passion. That sounds good to Carol (Steenburgen), whose satisfying sex life with her husband (Craig T. Nelson) has taken a sudden nosedive since his retirement.
Widow Diane (Diane Keaton) is skeptical, until love comes looking for her in the form of a handsome pilot (Andy Garcia), who sweeps her off her feet, to the consternation of her overprotective daughter (Alicia Silverstone).
Federal judge Sharon (Bergen) doesn't like the book and doesn't like prospect of dating, but she really doesn't like the fact that her ex (Ed Begley Jr.) has taken up with a woman in her 20s. So she goes online to find dates (hooking up with Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn in the process).
Vivian, meanwhile, while urging her friends to seek passion, has suddenly found herself flirting with true love. An old flame (Don Johnson) has resurfaced, and so have long-buried feelings of affection and regret.
Johnson's casting is a bit of a wink at the audience. His daughter Dakota is the star of the "Fifty Shades" movies, and if we didn't know that, we'd guess – the movie makes ample use of vintage photographs of the actors in their prime, and a shot of late 1970s Johnson shows him looking uncannily like his daughter.
There are also Photoshopped aggregations of Bergen, Fonda, Keaton and Steenburgen, and though they were never actually grouped together when young, they register reasonably well here as lifelong friends.
The movie rides entirely on their charm, not so much on the strength of the writing or the jokes. One of the women, for instance, decides to conjure passion by dosing her partner with Viagra, leading to the one-millionth movie joke about a man walking around with a visible condition he cannot subdue.
Fonda and Johnson haven't much chemistry, and Steenburgen ends up literally tap-dancing her way through the role. Bergen hasn't much to do, but her patience is rewarded with the movie's best speech. Keaton has a suspense-free role of a woman who wonders whether she should date a rich man with his own fleet of planes and a desert mansion in Sedona. And while Keaton is also the only woman here sporting actual shades of gray, her bubbly appeal is undiminished.
Directed by Bill Holderman. With Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Parents guide: PG-13 (sexual situations)
Running time: 1:44