Directed by: Andrew Fleming
Starring: Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks, David Suchet, Candice Bergen
reviewed by Ken Hanke
Andrew Fleming made his directorial debut back in 1988 with a horror picture called Bad Dreams, a title that suits my reaction to his latest offering, The In-Laws, something swell -- except that Bad Dreams was a lot funnier.
This pointless, witless remake of the 1979 film of the same name is not only unnecessary, it was made by people who seem not to have understood the original. About 20 minutes into The In-Laws (though I confess, it seemed much longer), my screening companion asked, "Is it just me, or is this thing kind of boring?" I told him to lose the "kind of" and he'd summed the movie up very neatly.
The original film wasn't -- and isn't -- a classic, but it seems like one after slogging through the new version. The plot remains the same: Prospective in-laws -- one an uptight professional, the other an unmitigated madman -- end up as the oddest of odd couples. There is one key exception (and no, I don't mean changing Alan Arkin's dentist into Albert Brooks' podiatrist; apparently, screenwriters Nat Mauldin and Ed Solomon think that podiatrists are funnier than dentists, the kind of creative leap that makes you wonder why they didn't make the character a chiropodist or, better yet, a proctologist, since the latter could at least have told them what to pull their heads out of.) In the original, the viewer spends the film wondering whether or not the Peter Falk character really is a secret agent, or else is just delusional. Well, this is the new millennium, and that kind of subtlety just won't do.
Even before the story really gets underway, we know that Steve Tobias (Michael Douglas) is a super-secret agent, since the movie begins with an action sequence that looks for all the world as if it was lifted intact from a Jerry Bruckheimer production -- though even Bruckheimer might have had reservations about playing Sir Paul McCartney's silly theme song for Live and Let Die over the action. This, by the way, is just one of the film's downright peculiar injections of pop music. Even stranger is the use of Badfinger's "No Matter What" over a later action scene with Douglas and Brooks. And even more stupid is dropping in B.J. Thomas' "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" for the scene where the "tidal wave" from an exploding submarine in Lake Michigan (neither the sub, nor the explosion, are noticed by the bulk of the cast, or by local law enforcement!) washes over the wedding party around which the plot revolves. (I think the last time I heard anything this wrong-headed on a soundtrack was when the Bee Gees -- who are, coincidentally, also part of the film score -- broke into "Carry That Weight" as they hoisted the heroine's coffin in Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.) The soundtrack, alas, is one of the more creatively quirky aspects of this forced and unfunny comedy.
The few mildly amusing moments in the film are all courtesy of Albert Brooks' wry observations. The best of these comes when he grimly notes, upon entering a Vietnamese restaurant, "At least the dog looks fresh" -- though we already heard this in the trailer. But there's only so much Brooks can do with material that generally isn't there. Douglas is woefully inadequate as a substitute for Peter Falk, mistaking wild-eyed frenzy for funny, though this approach is at least in keeping with the tone of The In-Laws, which is as woefully inadequate as its star.