Without the presence of Kirk Douglas, "Diamonds" would have ended up as a TV movie-of-the-week: an innocuous tale of cross-generational reconciliation that preaches the merits of family ties. But Douglas turns the film into something more by infusing it with his still-formidable strength. It doesn't hurt that the role of former boxer Harry Agensky seems tailor-made for him.
Known as the "Polish Prince," Agensky was once the welterweight world champion and still carries himself like a man ready for a fight. But Harry has recently suffered a stroke, and for the first time in his life, he needs to be cared for. That obligation falls to his two grown sons, but Lance (Dan Aykroyd) harbors deep resentment toward the tiny man who still looms large in his imagination.
Lance didn't inherit his father's athletic abilities, instead finding his own niche as a sportswriter. This career choice hasn't served to bring the men any closer. There's an immense awkwardness between them, but the bridge is Lance's teen-aged son Michael (Corbin Allred), who adores Harry. Michael seems to possess some of his grandfather's drive, but is still reeling from his parents' acrimonious divorce.
Screenwriter Allan Aaron Katz and director John Asher quickly establish the family's dynamics, then send the three generations of Agenskys on a quixotic road trip. Harry tells Michael about a stash of diamonds that a Reno, Nev., mobster hid decades before. Lance doesn't put much faith in their actual existence, but sees heading to Reno as a way to spend time with his son and father. It's no surprise that their journey ends up being defined as much by the detours as by their expressed goal.
One extended side trip involves a visit to a bordello where Sin-Dee (Lauren Bacall) serves as the regal madam. This sequence manages to be embarrassingly clichéd (even cringe-inducing at times) yet effectively serve as a turning point for the characters.
Even though it contains a few plot twists, "Diamonds" is absolutely irony-free. What little punch the film has comes from the 83-year-old Douglas, whose speech is still affected by his 1996 stroke. Douglas incorporated many of his own experiences into the role, giving it a much needed veracity. He also brings something more: that unmistakable quality of old-school Hollywood star power.
When "Diamonds" flashes back to Harry's boxing heyday, it utilizes footage of a young, tenacious Douglas in "The Champion," the 1949 film that made him a marquee name. Kirk Douglas may be older now, but he still looks like he could punch your lights out without giving it a second thought. Too bad his new movie doesn't pack a similar wallop.