It is impossible to believe that the four star actresses of “Book Club,” charismatic even at their age, would be characters who would need “Fifty Shades of Grey” to stimulate their sexual appetites. Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen are so magnetic that they look totally at odds with the premise and plot of “Book Club,” directed by Bill Holderman, who wrote the largely inane screenplay with Erin Simms. But the film’s asset is that watching these stars can be enjoyable, even in such a shaky vehicle.

Bergen, for example, plays Sharon, a federal judge and divorcee who hasn’t had sex for ages and, goaded by her friends, opts for trolling an internet dating site. Fonda plays Vivian, a wealthy hotel owner who likes her sex casual, with no romantic commitment. Steenburgen is Carol, a successful chef in a sexless marriage. Keaton is Diane, a widow living in California and whose two grown daughters think she is over the hill and in need of their care that justifies moving her to live with them in Arizona. The four friends meet monthly to discuss a book, and when “Fifty Shades of Grey” is suggested, that gambit sets the stage for examining their lives—and for some changes.

Keaton is the most sympathetic, in that her portrayal of Diane allows her to especially open up to an ardent pilot (Andy Garcia), whom she meets on a flight and with whom she launches into a liberating adventure. Fonda as Vivian is impressive in her independent way, as she tries to fend off a former boyfriend (Don Johnson), to whom she is attracted anew. Bergen as Sharon, while amusing, has a tough time trying to convince us that she initially is so reticent about seeking sex.

As for Steenburgen’s Carol, she tries to be alluring to her totally uninterested husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson). One of the funnier bits—even if thoroughly corny—occurs when she is convinced to put Viagra into her hubby’s beer, and he develops a raging erection with no intent to use it. A woman traffic cop, when she pulls him over for driving recklessly, is aghast at the sight of his protruding trousers. Carol’s frank explanation adds to the embarrassment.

There are some occasionally droll lines and amusing scenes, such as one in an Arizona mall, where Diane’s shopping daughters have planted her in a section where a totally decrepit bunch of old ladies are lounging in a collective stupor.

But the plot strains so hard to make sense out of anything that one can find the film terminally silly even though able enjoy seeing these superb actresses and screen icons going through the paces dreamed up for them. A Paramount Pictures release. Reviewed May 22, 2018

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