|Rating:RATED PG-13 for some language (including the evil French one) and violence
Starring: Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks, Robin Tunney, Ryan Reynolds, and Candace Bergin
Directed By: Andrew Fleming
Has Albert Brooks ever played a different character? I understand that the characters he’s played in films from Taxi Driver to My First Mister to the newly released The In-Laws are different people, but they all have the same tendencies and mannerisms. Like the great(ly overrated) Denzel Washington, Albert Brooks has made a career out of playing the same overly neurotic, tightly wound and unconfrontational character. Luckily for him, and for this remake, it’s usually funny.
The In-Laws is a simple formula film, the kind of contrasting character comedy that we used to see a lot of from Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It’s clear to see, while watching his performance, that Brooks is the Lemmon of the script, timid and controlled, but ready to erupt if his control is challenged. On the other hand, the Matthau is Michael Douglas, playing his role with wide-eyed enthusiasm and a face-wide smirk, while too trying maintain control of his way of life. It’s a tried and true formula, but it can only be held together by chemistry…which these two luckily have.
The plot of the film is simple. Mark (Reynolds) and Melissa (Lindsay Sloane) are in love, and are getting married. But before this can happen, they need to meet each others’ parents, and more importantly their parents must meet each other. This brings us to the pairing of Mark’s father Steve (Douglas) and Melissa’s father Jerry (Brooks). Steve is a rogue CIA agent with a frisky young partner (Tunney), both of whom are a little unhinged and willing to take risks. Jerry is a podiatrist, or foot-doctor, whom is always clad in a fanny pack and whom is afraid of anything from heights to planes to water. Of course, Jerry accidentally wanders into Steve’s business affairs, and becomes his new partner, flying along to France and posing as the legendary “Fat Cobra” while the FBI is on their trail.
The In-Laws is not an entirely funny film, and it has a lot of jokes that fall flat. But it’s not entirely unfunny either, with a lot of jokes that hit the mark solidly. With most of the “comedies” so far this year failing miserably in their attempts at humor (Head of State and National Security come to mind), it’s a refreshingly fun flick.
The key that pushes this film over the edge of mediocrity is its engaging cast. Douglas has been one of the best actors in America for years, and he’s perfectly over the top. I wondered coming in if I could easily view him as a Bond-like spy, and I was not disappointed. Another refreshing point is the fact that the filmmakers refrained from making Douglas’ character too Bond-like. They never strayed into gadgetry and cheap tricks (barring an opening plane crash scene), instead making the spies reliant on secrecy and undercover prowess, along with a little disguise.
Brooks is also perfectly cast, doing what he does perfectly. I know we’ve seen him give this performance before, and alone it would be tiresome. But the fact that the setting and surrounding characters are different seems to always give new life to his character. It almost reminds of a bad film series seeing him playing the same role in so many films with different settings. We’ve had “Albert Brooks meets the Goth Chick” (aka My First Mister) and now “Albert Brooks meets the Spy”. Soon we’ll get “Albert Brooks in the Hood”, followed by “Albert Brooks in Space”! By then it might get old, but for now it’s still fun.
The rest of the cast also adds some fun. Tunney is a lot of fun to watch as Douglas’ assistant who seems to be waiting at every turn with the next step in the plan. Reynolds, who almost single-handedly made the ludicrous Van Wilder an entertaining movie (Key Word = Almost), adds some humor when he gets the chance, but sadly is mostly just a tertiary character. Bergin shows up half way through the film as Steve’s ex- wife, and adds a couple of laughs as well.
In the end, The In-Laws is a lightly funny film that is carried by a great cast. I laughed a lot, and cared about the characters enough to want to see what would happen next. It’s a fresh early summer film that will be soon forgotten because it’s not a blockbuster, but it’s still a good time and is worth your time if you’re looking for a quick fix.
Oh yeah…One more thing. This film is based off of an earlier film version of The In-Laws, which was released in 1979. I have not seen this film, and therefore can not properly judge whether I fully respected or should have fully disrespected. All I know is that as its own entity, I liked it.