With its overblown script striving for maximum wackiness and cheap laughs, the espionage-and-matrimony comedy "The In-Laws" walks a thin line between funny and dumb in an inebriated stupor. Butt-crack gags and unlikely explosions are the order of the day. But a threesome of smarter-than-the-screenplay comedic performances keep the flick punchy enough to earn fairly steady smiles.
Albert Brooks stars as an anxiety-ridden podiatrist who considers a little foot fungus one of the most dangerous things in the world. Needless to say, he's in way over his head when, while trying to micro-manage his daughter's wedding plans, he stumbles onto a covert operation of international intrigue being led by the father of the groom (Michael Douglas), a loose-cannon undercover CIA agent.
Brooks provides a running narrative of amusing neuroses as he's knocked out and dragged along on a mission so he doesn't blow Douglas's cover as the screwy spook tries to prevent an effeminate French arms dealer (David Suchet) from selling a stolen nuclear stealth submarine. With masked insanity in his eyes and caffeine in his bloodstream, Douglas rides a comically uneven keel as the obnoxious daredevil spy of questionable sanity who does everything by the seat of his pants, including trying to negotiate with bad guys in a restaurant bathroom while having his first dinner with his future in-laws.
"Oh, an unconscious person. You must be working," deadpans his son (Ryan Reynolds, star of "Van Wilder") with an annoyed roll of his eyes when he follows Douglas into the john to lecture him about making a lousy first impression. But in a sign of things to come, every generous laugh line like that one seems to be followed by a really stupid one. "We've got the FBI on us like trailer trash on Velveeta," says Robin Tunney ("Cherish," "Vertical Limit"), Douglas's spy-girl apprentice, who exists only to serve a later plot gimmick.
The two fathers make an entertaining odd couple as Douglas whisks Brooks away to France on a stolen private plane (apparently belonging to Barbara Striesand), insisting that he pose as a reclusive master criminal and flirt with the arms dealer, leading to the painfully funny (and yes, cheap) sight gag of the pudgy, middle-aged Brooks (accustomed to wearing Dockers and a fanny pack) taking to a hot tub in a thong.
Funnier still is Candice Bergen as the mother of the groom and the rich ex-wife Douglas drove to the brink of insanity. Having been self-helped to death, she's attending the wedding with a Buddhist monk-for-hire in tow whose job it is to keep her calm and aid in her "closure." Bergen steals her few scenes with a droll delight that has been absent from her last few cartoonish roles in movies like "View From the Top" and "Legally Blonde."
While the wit of Brooks, Douglas and Bergen keep "The In-Laws" buttressed with good humor, director Andrew Flemming (who helmed the enjoyably nutty Watergate spoof "Dick") and writers Nat Mauldin (1998's "Dr. Dolittle") and Ed Solomon ("Men In Black") seem to consider quantity over quality when it comes to the movie's jokes.
Some scenes shine with comedic polish while others are so ham-fisted they drag the cast down with them. This is never truer than when they inevitably put the spy plot on a pedal-to-the-metal collision course with the wedding for a madcap, hole-riddled finale that shows no signs of the cleverness that at least has a fighting chance through the rest of the movie.
"The In-Laws" is a remake of a 1979 screwball comedy with Alan Arkin and Peter Falk (in the Brooks and Douglas roles, respectively), and as remakes go I've seen worse. But had Flemming and his writers just tried a little harder to be a little smarter, they might have achieved a Hollywood feat and produced a remake that actually measured up its predecessor.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 23rd May 2003
Box Office USA: $20.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $20.4M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Franchise Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
Fresh: 44 Rotten: 85
IMDB: 5.7 / 10
Director: Andrew Fleming
Starring: Michael Douglas as Steve Tobias, Albert Brooks as Jerry Peyser, Ryan Reynolds as Mark Tobias, Candice Bergen as Judy Tobias, Lindsay Sloane as Melissa Peyser, Maria Ricossa as Katherine Peyser, Michael Bodnar as Bodyguard, Vladimir Radian as Cherkasov, Robin Tunney as Angela Harris, Susan Aceron as Nurse, Chang Tseng as Quan Le, Tamara Gorski as Yadira, Boyd Banks as Patient
Also starring: David Suchet